The Incredible Mr. Limpet Blu-ray offers solid video and audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
Meek and mild mannered bookkeeper Henry Limpet has few passions in life. If Henry could have one thing it would be to become a fish. While on a visit to Coney Island, Henry falls into the water and miraculously gets his wish. Now a fish, he makes friends, Ladyfish and Crabby the hermit crab and loves his new life.
For more about The Incredible Mr. Limpet and the The Incredible Mr. Limpet Blu-ray release, see the The Incredible Mr. Limpet Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on August 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
By the early 1960s, Don Knotts was one of the most familiar comic personalities on American
television. His distinctive features, small stature and array of carefully timed nervous tics had
made him a beloved regular on Steve Allen's "Man on the Street" comedy segments, but when
he appeared as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, beginning in 1960, Knotts
became a TV legend. He won five Emmies for the role.
In TV's earlier years, movies were notoriously snobbish about employing television actors, but
Knotts was one of the exceptions. Beginning in 1964, Knotts made a series of successful family-friendly comedies, including The Reluctant
Astronaut and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken for
Universal and, later, The Apple Dumpling Gang for Disney. But Knotts's first venture on the big
screen was initially considered a disappointment, even though it was a (then) groundbreaking
effort by Warner Bros. to combine live action and animation. The last production by the fabled
Warner animation division before it was shuttered, The Incredible Mr. Limpet featured Knotts
both as an actor playing a character and as the voice of an animated ocean dweller. As Knotts
explained in an interview included on this disc (recorded about two years before his death in
2006), it was the first time he had done voice work, although it would not be the last. Today, Mr.
Limpet remains a cult classic that is fondly remembered by many who saw it in younger days and
continues to be discovered anew by later generations.
Mr. Limpet is based on a novel by Theodore Pratt, which was adapted for the screen by a team
that included one prolific screenwriting veteran, Jameson Brewer, and two for whom this would
be their only screenwriting credit, John C. Rose and Joe DiMona. The director was Arthur Lubin,
who is best known for helming classic Abbot and Costello films like Buck Privates. Somewhat
less famous is Lubin's other experience with talking animal stories; he directed over a hundred
episodes of the TV series Mister Ed.
The film opens with a suitably farcical sequence in the Pentagon, in which two naval officers,
Stickel (Jack Weston) and Harlock (Andrew Duggan), reluctantly revisit top secret files they'd
sealed in 1945 after winning World War II. Now marine biologists are detecting signs of unusual
intelligence in ocean life, and Harlock and Stickel believe that a prior covert operation may be
Flashback to 1941, when Stickel's friend, Henry Limpet (Knotts), lives a quiet life working as a
clerk in a Brooklyn shipping office. Classified "4F" for his poor eyesight (and other unspecified
ailments), Limpet daydreams about going to sea and serving his country as a naval officer. In
reality, he wanders home each night to his Flatbush apartment, where his wife, Bessie (Carole
Cook), grows increasingly bored with their dull routine. She's particularly annoyed, when Henry
is late because he's been hanging out at the local pet store (his equivalent of stopping at a bar
after work) to acquire another fish for his aquarium. The fish are more interesting to him than
people, and he knows everything about them: their names, habitats, geneologies, even their
rudimentary genetic structure.
On this particular September weekend, Stickel is on leave from the Navy and has come to visit
the Limpets. At his urging they all go to Coney Island for the afternoon, where Limpet stares over
the side of a pier and imprudently wishes he could be a fish. To the sounds of a chorus gently
crooning "be careful what you wish for", he tumbles into the water and is transformed into an
animated flounder who still need glasses but now packs a stentorian underwater yell capable of
driving off major predators.
Bessie and Stickel believe that Limpet has drowned. They're upset but not, at least to my eye,
distraught. Meanwhile, Limpet sets about exploring his new realm. He meets a cantankerous hermit crab
he names "Crusty" (voiced by Paul Frees), rescues a delicately pink damsel in distress with a breathless
Marilyn intonation and an urgent desire to spawn, whom he dubs "Ladyfish" (voiced by
Elizabeth MacCrae), and explores the wreckage of what appears to be a Red Cross ship sunk by
the German U-boat fleet. It quickly occurs to Limpet that he is now in the ideal position to serve
his country; if he can just establish regular communication with the American fleet, he can relay
precise information on the location and movement of German submarines.
Opening a dialogue between a talking fish and the U.S. Navy is no small task, and much of the
film's middle section is devoted to the comic embarrassment of the service's upper echelon not
wanting to take responsibility for the "secret weapon" that's fallen into their laps. The success of
the project is so immediate, however, that the German high command demands immediate action
to develop countermeasures against "das Limpet". There are no English subtitles for the brief
portions of the film with "German" dialogue, nor should there be. Much of it isn't real German,
but German phrases strung together for comic effect, in the manner that Sid Cesar perfected so
As a fish, Henry Limpet is able to accomplish everything that had eluded him on land: self-respect, service to his country, a commission in the Navy,
friendship on equal terms with Stickel,
even a reconciliation (of sorts) with Bessie. It takes a real man to become a successful fish.
The animation in Mr. Limpet is the old-fashioned cel style, which means it too was shot on film.
Warner didn't invest the time or money to fill the frame with the elaborate detail characteristic of
the golden age of Disney, but that would have been out of place here, because it would have
clashed with the live-action footage shot on soundstages and backlots. The animated scenes have
the simplicity of classic Looney Tunes, but without their anarchic spirit, which wouldn't
coordinate with the semi-realistic world of the human characters. (Did Don Knotts or Jack
Weston ever inhabit a "fully" realistic world? I can't think of any examples.)
Today, of course, the ocean-going Mr. Limpet could be rendered in photo-realistic 3D using
motion capture with a fully realized environment surrounding him. If the long-rumored remake
ever comes to fruition, we'll have a chance to find out whether bigger is really better for a story
like this. One thing's for certain; whoever plays Limpet, whether it's Jim Carrey (as was long
rumored) or Zach Galifianakis (the currently attached lead), he should study how Knotts did it.
The animators clearly did so, and it was Knotts's performance that made it all work.
The image on Warner's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray reflects both the age of the film and the
budgetary limitations. It's a decent but not spectacular image that is at its best when showing off
the various hues and shadows of Limpet's underwater habitat. The different shades of dark blue
sported by Limpet vs. the many delicate shades of pink that adorn Ladyfish are delicately
rendered, as are the dark shadings of the torpedoed Red Cross ship and the menacing outlines of
the U-boats. The live-action scenes have the distinctive artificiality associated with studio films
of the Fifties and Sixites, where the hair, make-up, costumes and decor all look like they belong
on a soundstage or a backlot, because that's where almost every scene has been photographed.
Audiences of the period didn't mind this kind of stylization, and no one should object to it today.
It contributes to the film's required sense of a time gone by. (The cinematographer was veteran
cameraman Harold E. Stine, who would go on to shoot M*A*S*H.)
Black levels and contrast look about right, and detail ranges from fair to very good. To the extent
that details suffers in individual shots or scenes, this must be attributed to the original
photography and not to any post-processing of the transfer in the name of grain elimination or
reduction. The film's grain structure remains visible and intact, though not in any way that's obvious or intrusive. Artificial
sharpening was nowhere to be seen, nor did I detect any compression artifacts.
Mr. Limpet's soundtrack is mono presented as DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The mix has
acceptable, but not exceptional dynamic range. Voices are clear, but it is very obvious when
certain elements have been added in post-production, notably Crusty's dialogue and any of the
songs. The instrumental soundtrack by Frank Perkins (a prolific TV composer) sounds somewhat
thin. The songs written by Sammy Fain and Harold Adamson sound better.
The extras have been ported over from the 2004 DVD. Omitted are something called the "Get in
the Swim with Henry Challenge" and various DVD-ROM features.
Introduction by Don Knotts (SD; 1.33:1; 2:47): With his signature lilt apparently
unchanged by the passage of time, Knotts talks about doing his first voice work for
animation and recalls Limpet's initial weak reception, followed by its gradual adoption
over the years.
Weekend at Weeki Wachee (SD; 1.33:1; 10:25): This vintage promotional short from
1964 recounts the film's underwater premiere (literally) at a Florida attraction famed for
its performances by "mermaids" observed through a huge glass window.
Mr. Limpet's Fish Tank (SD; 1.33:1): In these short segments, the elderly Knotts
reflects on the actors who brought the various characters to life, either in the flesh or
through voice work.
Bessie Limpet (0:36)
George Stickel (0:58)
Theatrical Trailer (SD; 1.78:1, enhanced; 4:50): Grafted onto a more conventional
trailer is a promotion for the single (check out the old-style forty-five record—with
spindle adapter!) cut by radio host Arthur Godfrey as a tie-in with the film. Godfrey was
so popular at the time that his endorsement of Mr. Limpet was worth getting, although it
probably was aimed at the wrong demographic: not the kids, but the grandparents taking
them to the theater.
A recent thread in the discussion forum at Blu-ray.com asked the question: "Do you still find
Blu-rays visually stunning?" Viewers who approach their discs from such a perspective will
almost certainly be disappointed by The Incredible Mr. Limpet, because it will never be "visually
stunning". Seeing an animated character share the same frame with a live actor was an arresting
sight when the film was first released, almost a half century ago, but today it's a common
occurrence. Once the initial "grabber" loses its grip, which it always does with the passage of
time, a film sustains its hold only if it has interesting characters and an involving story that
provoke a favorable response from the audience. Mr. Limpet has these, and much of the credit is
due to its diminutively iconic star, whose characters are almost always trying to do the right
thing, even if by the unlikeliest of means. Recommended.
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