“Are you on a raft?”
“No, I’m swimming. I’m a fish!”
“Good Lord, a comedian!”
Indeed, in the classical sense, it is a comedian: good ol’ Don Knotts as a human-turned-fish. Quoth the Coen Brothers: you know, for kids! Best to repeat that mantra-style if you’re an adult sitting down to watch 1964’s kiddie flick The Incredible Mr. Limpet. In the plus column, Limpet stars Don Knotts, teaches a bit of ichthyology and, for its time, boasts a novel format as a feature-length mash-up of live-action and animation (with children’s-45-ready songs by Sammy Fain and Harold Adamson). On the minus side, count the sluggish pace and production, a noticeably padded script, and generally limp attempts at comedy and adventure.
Knotts plays Walter Mitty-ish Brooklyn bookkeeper Henry Limpet. 4-F during America’s ramp-up to joining WWII, he’d rather be a hero, but has to settle for his amateur ichthyology. “It’s just that fish are so bright and cheerful,” he enthuses. “And so beautiful.” That’s enough for…God? For twenty minutes into the movie, after musically wishing he were a fish (yes, Don sings: "I Wish I Were a Fish"), voila! Suddenly an animated flounder (with the voice of Knotts), Henry plunges into the waters off Coney Island and begins exploring the seas, much to the horror of his wife Bessie (Carole Cook) and best friend George Stickel (Jack Weston).
Limpet meets a crabby crab he dubs “Crusty” (voice of veteran Paul Frees) and the sultry Ladyfish (Elizabeth MacRae): what’s not to like about his new life under the sea? Perhaps best of all, the once-ineffectual Henry discovers he can be crucially useful to the war effort by spotting Nazi submarines for the U.S. Navy. It just so happens George Stickel is in the U.S. Navy, so Limpet makes contact and wins his friend a promotion(?) to “piscatorial protocol specialist, 1st class.” Days are saved, heroes are made, and top-secret government porpoise research is launched.
Looney Tunes vet Robert McKimson is among the animators, but budget-pinching is apparent: the animation isn’t very exciting (at least Limpet and his new gal get a bit more attention than the crudely rendered Crusty). These days, The Incredible Mr. Limpet ranks mostly as a curiosity, though Warner is attempting to get a remake off the ground, most recently attached to Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly). Perhaps the oddest moment in Limpet comes when its hero ponders his existential transpecies situation in a way that sounds like it could be an allegory for transgender. In becoming a fish, he speculates, “Maybe nature just corrected her error."
Warner succeeds swimmingly with its Blu-ray debut for The Incredible Mr. Limpet. It's difficult to imagine the film looking better than it does here, despite its advanced age: the print is clean, the telecine and color rock-solid stable, and the transfer very nicely resolved, with a natural filmic look. Detail and texture are strong, including light grain providing the filmic texture. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 may not be anything to write home about, but it's certainly clear enough.
It's nice to see a few bonus features here, ported over from DVD. There's a sweet-natured "Introduction by Don Knotts" (2:47, SD); his age is advanced, but he has warm feelings about the film.
The 1964 short "Weekend at Weeki Wachee" (10:25, SD) covers the film's premiere at a Florida tourist attraction.
Mr. Limpet's Fish Tank comprises five bite-sized segments of film clips and interview clips of Don Knotts discussing co-stars and the director's approach (bless 'im, but Knotts' recollections are pretty inane): "Bessie Limpet" (0:36, SD), "George Stickel" (0:58, SD), "Ladyfish" (1:09, SD), "Crusty" (0:56, SD) and "Limpetfish" (1:10, SD).
Rounding out the disc is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (4:50, SD).
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