- by Jeff Beck
Jojo Rabbit: Taika Waititi's Inventive WWII Satire (Blu-ray)
Taiki Waititi is one of those writer/directors that appeared to come out of nowhere and skyrocket to stardom overnight. Starting off by making short films in the early 2000s, he began getting a lot of attention in 2014 and 2016 when he made the cult-favorite feature films "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople." Merely one year after the latter, he made the giant leap into making "Thor: Ragnarok," consider by many to be one of the very best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While he does indeed have another "Thor" sequel in the works, he decided to follow up his excursion into the MCU with something completely different: an intriguing World War II satire called "Jojo Rabbit," which earned him a fair amount of praise throughout awards season, including the prestigious People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film follows Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young German boy who is a member of the youth Nazis during WWII. While attending a training camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), he finds that he is unable to kill a rabbit, leading the other members to mock him with the name "Jojo Rabbit." However, after a pep talk with his imaginary friend, a goofy version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), he returns and tries to show his bravery by throwing a grenade, but it nearly ends up getting him killed. This leads to Jojo helping the war effort in other ways, including collecting scrap metal and putting up posters. His life turns upsidedown again when he discovers a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding in their house. While their relationship is antagonistic at first, they soon come to an understanding, one in which Jojo discovers that his views of Jews were considerably wrong all along.
Waititi's "Jojo Rabbit," based on the novel "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunens, is a wonderfully-bizarre take on your typical WWII material, but it's that unique approach that makes it stand out. Even at the risk of people being offended by a goofy caricature of Adolf Hitler, Waititi owns it, earning several of the film's laughs. This is in no small part due to his own cleverly-written screenplay. He skillfully mixes moments of humor among the dramatic material, which in itself is a rather incredible achievement, especially given the gravitas of the subject matter. No doubt this is one of the reasons it earned him multiple awards, including the Writers Guild, BAFTA, and, ultimately, the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Along with Waititi, the rest of the SAG-nominated cast does an excellent job bringing this unusual story to life. Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie's on-screen chemistry helps drive a good portion of the film, accompanied by great supporting work from Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Archie Yates, and Scarlett Johansson (who earned an Oscar nod, among many other nominations, for her performance). Again, trying to deliver even the smallest bits of comedy in these narrative surroundings couldn't have been the easiest thing to do, but they were certainly up to the challenge.
In terms of negative criticism, the only thing really holding it back is some slight pacing issues. There are times throughout the film where it does feel like it's dragging a bit. Definitely not to the point where it's really hurting the film, but enough as to where it's noticeable, even at its shorter runtime of 108 minutes. However, it's the sweet story, particularly the relationship between Jojo and Elsa, that keeps it moving along. That, and the fundamentally strange nature of the tale.
This was certainly an intriguing way for Waititi to poke a little fun at the absurdity of such blindly-followed and assumed views. The nature of the film may indeed be a little strange, but it certainly gets the point across. Having shown his talents in smaller films, big-budget blockbusters, and now films with fascinating commentary, it will be quite interesting to continue following Waititi's career to see where he goes next. Of course, "Thor: Love and Thunder" will be taking up quite a lot of his time in the coming months, and it will no doubt be worth it for his return to the MCU, but after that, we can only imagine what film he'll choose to tackle next.
"Jojo Rabbit" comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is beautifully sharp and clear, highlighting the film's incredible period production design and Oscar-nominated costumes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and Michael Giacchino's score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, resulting in a wonderful experience in both departments.
Audio Commentary: A somewhat weak commentary track with writer/director Taika Waititi in which he discusses the film every now and again.
Inside Jojo Rabbit (30 Minutes): A great look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes (9 Minutes): A selection of three deleted sequences in which you can clearly see why they were cut.
Outtakes (3 Minutes)
Boasting a wonderful cast, a compelling premise, and an Oscar-winning screenplay, Taika Waititi's "Jojo Rabbit" makes for an intriguing WWII satire, delivering laughs, but also injecting important commentary into its genre-mixing tale. It may have slight issues with pacing every now and again, but its stronger elements help keep it moving along, ultimately leaving you with a very strange, but unique, take on the material.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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