G, but the most uncomfortable G rating I've ever seen. Like, there are major themes of adultery throughout the movie. Ladyfish is perhaps one of the most sexual animated characters outside of Jessica Rabbit. It's really really weird and my wife and I were just hoping that the kids weren't picking up on a lot of the overt innuendo. For a G-rated movie, the whole thing is pretty sexual. G.
DIRECTORS: Arthur Lubin, Gerry Chiniquy, Robert McKimson, Hawley Pratt, and Bill Tytla
One of my friends a few years ago went off on a rant about how this is the weirdest movie ever. I should have heeded his warning. I suppose that part of me was intrigued by the notion that this movie could have been that weird. After all, it is part of the cultural zeitgeist, despite the fact that I know few people who have actually sat down and watched this movie. Yeah, I should have taken my friend's rant as a warning, but family movie night was upon us and we had limited access to film. It came down either this or Mister Popper's Penguins and the vote leaned hard into The Incredible Mr. Limpet. As the knight at the end of Last Crusade has made famous, we chose poorly.
The most insane thing about this movie is that it starts off with the title card followed by "Based on the novel by...". I don't know how much is credited to the novel. Maybe this is a one-to-one adaptation. Maybe it is loosely based on similar themes, but this movie doesn't even make sense as a novel. I imagine the tone was quite different. Probably the audience was entirely difference. I can't help but think that the jump between the novel and the film was probably comparable to the source material and the TV versions of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The movie desperately wants to be this family friendly comedy, looking at the works of Walt Disney and trying to imitate that style. Honestly, I only realized that I wasn't watching a Disney movie when searching for images for the movie and seeing that a lot of them were stamped with the watermark labeled "Warner Archive". Again, I'm doing a lot of guesstimation here, but I think the largest problem that this movie has involves the attempt to clean up a book that really shouldn't be cleaned up.
Because at its heart, Mr. Limpet is about affairs. I know that the movie really tries hard to lean into the patriotism of the third act of the film, but that almost seems like a misdirect from what is at the heart of the piece. For most of Henry Limpet's life, he has been seen as a waste of space. His wife is clearly having an affair, although the movie itself feels uncomfortable to share that information outright. She hates her husband and makes eyes at George Stickel while her husband is alive. Like, she really hates Henry. He seems to be a guy who hasn't changed a thing about himself since he was a child. It hardly seems realistic that a guy who is embodied by all the weirdness of Don Knotts just instantly becomes awkward and lanky. I mean, in an attempt to establish the patriotic themes of the movie, Limpet, while human and attempting to enlist in the army, weirds out his whole office by sticking a fish in the water cooler. (At this point of the movie, I was on board. I had flashes to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and thought that this movie was going to be a spiritual cousin.) So why would Bessie marry Henry? She holds him in contempt for the entire time that he's on land. She can't wait to get away from him so she can have a fling with her Navy guy on the side. Heck, the two of them rub their relationship in his face. He's just too preoccupied with the notion of fish to even remotely notice that this tomfoolery is happening in his home.
But Henry almost knows that he is loathed. I mean, people make it pretty clear. It's just that he uses his fantasy to become a fish as a weird sense of hope. Maybe one day, he will become a fish, which keeps him going. As depressing as it is (I just became aware that I'm wearing a mask and got more depressed), Henry at least has his priorities straight. He throws away his fish to save his marriage. It seems that he's all over the place, but it seems like Henry is just someone who has settled into his depression because of the social stigma that the alternative would demand.
And this is where the movie gets really muddied. I mean, the story is weird enough as is, but it gets just off the rails with its attempt to verbalize the themes. When Henry actually has his wish granted and we enter the animated portion of the film, the movie actually states "Be careful what you wish for." One of the original titles for the film was "Be Careful How You Wish". The movie sets up this whole morality play about being grateful for the life you had, like It's a Wonderful Life. But then the movie just decides to ignore that and it gives Henry Limpet the life he always wanted. There's very little downside to Henry becoming a fish. He has a moral conundrum about cheating on his wife, which is kind of sold as a double-edged sword. Like, it's a bummer that he shouldn't cheat on his wife, but he also feels self-esteem for the first time which is pretty gross in terms of making him a sympathetic character. He also loses his glasses, but that could happen on land. This isn't a cautionary tale about becoming a fish so you don't lose your glasses. If anything, everything that Henry imagined about becoming a fish works out and more. He not only becomes a fish, but he becomes a fish with superpowers?
I don't know where the superpowers come from. It's this thing that makes Henry Limpet an asset to the military. But it also...doesn't have much to do with fish. A lot of Henry's journey through fishhood is him finding value in himself. He has courage, but he didn't have the ability to do anything about it. I hate that I'm going to be making a comparison to Captain America: The First Avenger, but that's what's going on here. But while Cap got all the muscles and speed, Henry is a fish that makes a goofy noise that has no other purpose but alerting radar to the presence of Nazi U-boats. (I suppose that I should mention in the MPAA section that this movie has Nazis.) If the central idea involves simplifying one's life to find value, this is the opposite. Henry, by all intents and purposes, has the same outlook on life as a human being, but he's actually gained abilities, not lost. It's a really muddled message.
Henry's wife doesn't make a lick of sense as a character. She's introduced as this two-timing harpie who makes Henry's life miserable. She's clearly cheating on him. But then she worries about him all the time. She is very understanding when he ends up being a fish. I think that doesn't really gel with her close-minded attitude presented thus far. This kind of allows for my least favorite moment, especially when there's a romantic trope running through the film. Everyone is paired off nicely and there are no consequences for infidelity. I really don't like that one bit. It's so convenient and avoids the real emotional stakes going on. Also, Henry Limpet can't wait to have sex with a fish. This fish has no idea about complex human relationships and it's almost like reading into a someone as being completely vapid. It's gross.
Yeah, I should have listened to my buddy. This movie was rough. It's weird, but in all the wrong ways.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.