Release Date(s)2019 (February 18, 2020)
Studio(s)Fox Searchlight/TSG/Defender (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Jojo Beltzer (Roman Griffin Davis) is a good boy. He’s ten years old, loves his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) very much, has a faithful best friend named Yorki (Archie Yates)—not to mention a terrific imaginary friend—and he’s about to leave for summer camp. But that’s where things get complicated; the year is 1945, the camp is run by the Hitler Youth, and his imaginary friend is named Adolf (Taika Waititi). Things get more complicated still when a camp injury leaves Jojo stuck at home, where he soon discovers that his mother is hiding a girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in a secret space in the wall. And the only thing that could be more scary to a ten year German boy in 1945 than a girl, is to learn that she’s Jewish too. So what’s a little Nazi to do? The answer, of course, is grow up. Gradually, by interacting with Elsa and with the gentle coaxing of his mother, Jojo begins to see things differently… and to learn that the truth is often very different than you might believe.
Allow me to digress for a moment: When I was in high school in North Dakota, I had a teacher—Frau Moore—a kind woman with a thick German accent. She told the class a story one day of how, when she was just a girl during the war, she was chosen by her village to present flowers to Adolf Hitler. Then she told us how, a few years later, she was riding home on her bicycle in the countryside when a German Stuka strafed her on the road—she only survived because her dog knocked her off the bike at the last minute. Since that day, I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to be born and grow up in one of the most cruel totalitarian states of the 20th Century. With indoctrination almost from birth, how would you know that anything was amiss? How would you even realize the true nature of the evil around you?
The genius of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is that it uses satire to show us Nazi Germany from a child’s perspective. Everything seems like fun and games at first, because for Jojo it is. He believes the Nazi ideology, because it’s all he knows. But satire works by inversion—by making the normal abnormal or the scary absurd to illustrate a larger point. And nothing could be more abnormal or absurd than a buffoonish Imaginary Adolf Hitler. Jojo Rabbit is Mel Brooks by way of Wes Anderson. Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows hinted at his comic talents as a writer, actor, and director, but to go from that to making Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, and now this is truly impressive. Young Griffin Davis, Yates, and McKenzie each give brilliant performances, as do Sam Rockwell (as a one-eyed Wehrmacht captain named Klenzendorf) and Stephen Merchant (as a nebbish former accountant given the power of life and death by the Gestapo). But it’s Johansson that truly surprises here, reminding us that her range extends far beyond her work for Marvel. Add a playful score by Michael Giacchino, and a soundtrack that includes iconic pop songs by The Beatles and David Bowie (the German language versions, of course) and the result is a refreshing and original dramedy gem, well deserving of its Best Picture nomination.
Jojo Rabbit was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4K in a 4x3 sensor mode) using Arri Alexa SXT and Mini cameras with Hawk and Leica anamorphic lenses (and Vantage One sphericals for select shots). It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, upsampled for this release, and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available on the UHD). Fine detail is very good, but the resolution is intentionally softened a bit around the edges by the use of anamorphic glass. The texturing is absolutely lovely—and visible immediately in the tan fabric of Jojo’s Deutsches Jungvolk uniform, Imaginary Adolf’s toothbrush moustache, and the gray wool of Klenzendorf’s Wehrmacht jacket. The HDR grade is restrained; it’s just enough to deepen shadows and to add a little pop to the highlights. The colors are vibrant and accurate but a tad desaturated, pushed warm early on (to achieve a slightly vintage/period look) but growing colder later in the film.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix of good overall clarity. The soundstage is medium wide and largely front-focused, as you might expect from a dialogue-driven film. That dialogue is always clean and discernible, while music and light atmospheric effects filter in from the surround channels—the opening Beatles track is notable for the fact that the guitar is in the left channel while the vocals are on the right, per the track’s original stereo mix. There isn’t much in the way of sonic bluster here, but there are a couple of scenes that feature combat or explosions and those have decent heft. This mix is seldom flashy, but it does serve the film well. Additional audio options include English 5.1 Descriptive Audio and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles include English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French and Spanish.
Fox’s 4K Ultra HD disc includes only one extra:
- Audio Commentary by Taika Waititi
Note that subtitles are also available for the commentary in English, French, and Spanish—a nice touch. But the package includes the film in 1080p on a Blu-ray, a disc that also includes the commentary and adds the following special features (in HD):
- Deleted Scenes (3 scenes – 8:57 in all)
- Outtakes (3:26)
- Inside Jojo Rabbit (29:46)
- Teaser Trailer (:59)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
The commentary offers plenty of Waititi’s disarming and self-deprecating humor. The only drawback to the track is that there are several quite long pauses, as Waititi essentially lets you watch a scene play out and then comments on it. But what makes up for this is that he actually calls some of his actors on the phone (including Griffin Davis, Merchant, Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Alfie Allen) and interviews them throughout the track. As for the deleted scenes, I can see why they were cut (most were far too long), but Imaginary Göring made me laugh. The outtakes are cute as well. Inside Jojo Rabbit has the feel of an HBO First Look special, but is nicely comprehensive and features of all the key cast and Waititi, who essentially hosts. Ultimately, this is not a lot of bonus material, but the film really doesn’t need more—it stands well enough on its own. As usual, there’s a Movies Anywhere Digital code in the packaging.
Jojo Rabbit’s mix of comic satire with serious undertones certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But this film has real heart and deep humanity, and I absolutely love it. With Fascism on the rise around the globe, and far too many neo-Nazis feeling emboldened in our own backyard, now is exactly the time for a film to show such ridiculous and hateful ideologies for the rubbish they are—and to tell the story of one young boy who learns to think for himself. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt