Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, January 28, 2017

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964)

When I was a kid, I went through a weird Don Knotts phase. At the time, I don't think my appreciation was based on anything more then thinking this scrawny guy with the funny voice was amusing. Looking back, I suspect I related to Knotts' archetypal role as a frustrated nerd, attempting to succeed in a complicated world. Naturally, as someone who also loved animation and was interested in the ocean, I was drawn to “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” Even as a kid, I found this one to be a bit boring. If “Mr. Limpet” couldn't occupy a child, what are the odds of it entertaining an adult? Which raises the question: Why do I own this?

Henry Limpet doesn't have much going for him. He wishes to serve in World War II but his bad eye sight marks him 4-F. His wife doesn't care for Henry's bookish, withdrawn ways. She seemingly prefers Limpet's braggart buddy, George, who recently enlisted. Henry's greatest passion is fish. He studies the history and evolution of fish, sings songs to his fish tank, and even wishes about becoming a fish. In an unlikely twist of fate, that last desire comes to pass. After falling off the dock, Limpet is transformed into a fish. His life only gets stranger from there.

It's easy to see why a kid would drift away during the first twenty minutes of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” The human focused scenes of the first third are goofy, disposable stuff. Limpet's wife is a shrew, clearly totally disinterested in understanding or emphasizing with him. His buffoonish best friend, who considers himself a top secret Navy officer even though he's a simple machinist, constantly snipes at Limpet. A lot of the comedic gags here are very silly, such as Limpet placing a pet goldfish in the office water cooler or allowing the fish tank to overflow while zoning out. Through it all, Don Knotts' easy going, totally genuine charm keeps the viewer invested. He makes the silly script a lot easier to swallow.

Once Limpet makes his incredible transformation, the film perks up considerably. This was the first of many voice over roles for Knotts. He's a natural at it, making a cartoon fish as lively a character as his flesh-and-blood counterpart. Limpet's adventures in the sea are not uncommon for family flicks of the day. Henry befriends a hermit crab, which he names Crusty, soon after becoming a fish. He later rescues a female fish who immediately invites him to the spawning ground. (This may sound edgy for a family flick from 1964 but consider the decidedly unsexy way fish reproduce.) The two fish later claim to love each other, even though an earlier scene established that marine life doesn't even understand first names as a concept. A pivotal climatic scene involves Limpet loosing his glasses... Even though I'm pretty sure fish don't have to worry about astigmatism. Though all very silly, the script is fleet-footed enough, keeping the audience invested in this nonsensical business.

Even stranger, that admittedly nutty premise is not the weirdest thing about “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” The film eventually becomes a piece of propaganda for a war that was over two decades before it even came out. As a fish, Mr. Limpet can make a deafening, sonar like noise. Still determined to serve his country, Limpet uses this ability to help the U.S. Navy uncover German U-Boats. This plot turn leads to a lot of comical hand grasping among the military officials. Limpet also manages to piss the Nazis off so much that they design torpedoes specifically to seek him out. (Leading to a rather inevitable Limpet mine pun.) This also leads to a montage of Limpet fantasizing himself as a war hero, marching in a parade and being on magazine covers. Yes, he's still a fish. It's a pretty weird, unexpected turn for a goofy kids movie.

Why Do I Own This?: “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” is as goofy a flick as you're likely to find. It's handful of songs – yes, this is a musical of sorts – are all rather forgettable. The film ends on a bizarre, rather unpromising sequel hook, where Limpet is apparently training porpoises to be more intelligent. Despite these flaws, Knotts' charm keeps the movie afloat. The animation is lively, cartoony but colorful for its time. It's not too surprising that the film would become something of a cult classic over the years, even prompting talks of a terrifying looking remake at one point. “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” isn't the proudest addition to my DVD collection but I hardly regret owning it. It's not too bad at all. [7/10]

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