Updated: May 11
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
JoJo Betzler, played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, gets a pep talk from his imaginary friend Adolf (writer/director Taika Waititi).
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy;
PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language; Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The 30-minute feature, “Inside ‘Jojo Rabbit’”
“PLAYS IT too safe”?
“Uneven and indecisive”?
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Some critics got so hung up on what “Jojo Rabbit” isn’t—“The Great Dictator,” “The Producers,” “Inglourious Basterds”—that they missed what it is: an outlandishly farcical, deeply moving coming-of-age story that deftly tiptoes the line between comedy and horror.
Like many 10-year-old boys, Jojo Betzler isn’t so sure of himself, so, like them, he invents an imaginary confidante, a morale-booster who helps him sort things out. Unlike those boys, their father hasn’t gone missing, their sister isn’t dead and the Third Reich isn’t crashing and burning.
And their secret friend isn’t named Adolf. Yes, that Adolf.
That’s the gauntlet that writer-director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) threw down in adapting Christine Leunens’ 2004 novel “Caging Skies.” That he took it up was cemented on Oscar night: Waititi went home with the prize.
Waititi, who dared to inject humor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he helmed “Thor: Raganok,” also plays Adolf—not as a ranting madman, though we get glimpses of that, but, as one review put it, with the goofy energy of Monty Python’s Michael Palin.
(1) JoJo and his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) are off to Hitler youth camp. (2) Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) has been stuck at the camp since losing a perfectly good eye during "Operation Screw-Up." (3) The boys gather round as Captain K shows them how to throw a hand grenade (4&5) JoJo and Adolf race toward the hand-grenade pit, but Jojo has an accident and is left with a number of nasty scars.
“Comedy is the best way to trick [audiences] into coming down this alleyway,” Waititi says in the feature “Inside ‘Jojo Rabbit.’” “Then—smash them over the head with something important.”
It’s a big day for Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis): He and his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) are off to Hitler youth camp. His dream of Aryan glory gets derailed, though, when he refuses to slaughter a rabbit to prove his fitness and is taunted for his compassion. Adolf is by his side through it all, and doesn’t desert him after a hand-grenade accident scars Jojo and relegates him to serving the Reich by pasting up posters and collecting scrap metal.
That's when the tone takes a sharp turn. Jojo discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation,” “The Avengers”) has hidden a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenize, “The King”) in the crawlspace and, lo and behold, she doesn’t have horns, As Jojo warms to Elsa, and she to him, he comes to question everything else that he was taught to believe, too.
As the story plays out, “Jojo” will break your heart then fill it again.
(1&2) JoJo hears noises in his mother's room and finds a Jewish teenager, Elsa (Thomasin McKenize), hiding in the crawlspace. (3&4) JoJo and his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) witness the horror of the Third Reich.
Davis delivers with the assurance of a seasoned pro. He’s a natural, as is Yates, who steals every scene he’s in. Johansson, who was up for a supporting Oscar (and lead actress for “Marriage Story”) is wonderful, too. Same goes for Oscar winner Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) as Captain Klenzendorf, the camp kommandant, Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) as fertile Fraulein Rahm, and Stephen Merchant (“The Office,” UK version) as Deertz, head of the local Gestapo.
In addition to being nominated for Best Picture and Editing, “Jojo Rabbit” was in the running for costume design and production design. That’s another reason not to miss it: Its aesthetic is pure Wes Anderson.
Waititi and Romanian cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (“The Master”) filmed “JoJo” in and around Prague with its gorgeous architecture. They used Arri Alexa Mini and SXT 3.4K digital cameras, mounted with 1.3x anamorphic lens, and on-location they could spin 360 degrees without seeing annoying antennas, satellite dishes and air conditioning unit, since they’re banned from public viewing in the Czech Republic. That gave the production an easy switch to WWII Germany as the captured footage was mastered in 2K with a slight hint of film grain filtering. The overall sharpness and clarity is excellent from wide shots to a number of close-ups since just about every single pixel on the 4K screen are used within the 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The expansive color palette is extremely vibrant from the Oscar-nominated costumes and production design, especially during the first two acts and then desaturates a notch during the war scenes. The HDR10 toning also gives a slightly darker look and deeper blacks, and the brightest highlights still hold their own without losing detail.
The 4K and Blu-ray both are coded with the DTS-HD six-channel soundtrack that's nicely balanced between the dialogue-driven story and active war scenes with explosions and zooming bullets. Plus it includes a number of pop tunes including The Beatles German version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Love, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” by Tom Waits and Michael Giachhino’s (“Up,” “Ratatouille,” “Jurassic World”) score of simple melodies featuring a children’s choir and odd percussive sounds.
(1) Elsa tells JoJo, "There are no weak Jews. I am descended from those who wrestle angels and kill giants. We were chosen by God. You were chosen by a fat man with greasy hair and half a moustache." (2) JoJo and his mother enjoy a day of bike riding. (3) Deertz (Stephen Merchant) and his Gestapo henchmen come knocking. (4) Klenzendorf examines the papers of Jojo’s sister.
At nearly 30 minutes, “Inside ‘Jojo Rabbit’” allows time to, well, get inside “Jojo Rabbit.” Waititi discusses the need for “new and more inventive ways of telling these stories,” like “really getting inside the head of a 10-year-old boy.”
“The world needs ridiculous films,” he says, “because the world is ridiculous.”
Waititi also sits down for a commentary that some reviewers would probably nitpick too. Instead of talking about inspirations and camera angles, he makes phone calls to his cast, telling Davis that it’s not too late to cut the young star out of the film because he won’t put Waititi on his list of funniest people on the set.
And Merchant tells him that if anyone bothered to get “Jojo” for its commentary, they’d ask for their money back. His parting dig? Michael Bay did better with his for “The Rock.”
That’s the appeal of the track: It’s cheeky and chatty and Waititi couldn’t be more likable.
Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, outtakes and, a delightful commentary with Waititi.
— Craig Shapiro and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
The war comes to JoJo’s hometown