A limpet, as you probably know, is an undersea mollusk, a small, gilled snail that clings to the rocks in fresh or salt water. It’s an apt name for the main character in 1963’s “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” a timid little man who longs to be a big fish in the ocean, literally.
The real question, though, isn’t why he has the name Limpet but why Warner Bros. chose this particular film for transfer to Blu-ray. I mean, it isn’t as though it’s a cult-favorite movie or even a classic family picture. It’s just a rather bland, silly, and juvenile live-action/animated film that most people would probably have forgotten by now if it didn’t star Don Knotts. Yes, Knotts pretty much makes the movie, thanks to his usual sad-sack face and deadpan demeanor. So, if you’re a die-hard Don Knotts fan, this may be a film for you. However, being indifferent to the actor’s charms, I found the film didn’t do a lot for me.
OK, to be fair, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” is a really a children’s film, and I shouldn’t be too hard on it by looking on from an adult perspective. For children eight to twelve it should work just fine. Above twelve, teenagers, I doubt there would be much appeal; below eight and I’m not sure the child would understand the whole World War II angle that becomes an important part of the show. Besides, there’s also the fact that the best children’s movies, like so many Disney, Pixar, and Warner Bros. productions, can appeal equally to adults. I still love “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “Aladdin,” “Mary Poppins,” “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “Up,” the Road Runner, and the like. “Mr. Limpet” is far more limited.
Screenwriters Jameson Brewer and John C. Rose adapted their script from a novel by Theodore Pratt that clearly borrows from James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” about a mousy little man with big daydreams. This is especially important because Hollywood had made a successful movie of the Thurber short story in 1947 with Danny Kaye, using fantasy and musical numbers. So, “Mr. Limpet” uses fantasy and musical numbers to tell its story as well.
“Mr. Limpet” tells its narrative in flashback, turning from 1963 when the studio made it to September of 1941, a few months before America’s entrance into World War II. Knotts plays Henry Limpet, a discontented Brooklyn bookkeeper working in an office full of women. He’s unhappy because his draft board has classified him as 4-F for bad eyesight, making him ineligible for his life’s ambition to join the navy and do heroic things. Why the navy? Because Henry loves fish, going so far as to keep a goldfish in the office water cooler. But all of that is soon to change.
You see, Henry believes in evolution, that Man’s ancestors were fish, and he thinks that if we came from the sea, we could return to the sea as fish. He believes, in fact, in reverse evolution. And that’s exactly what happens one day when he and his wife (Carole Cook) and best friend (Jack Weston) visit the seashore. Henry stares into the water, wishing he could be a fish, suddenly jumps in, and transforms into animated one.
From there, you can guess what happens. A newspaper headline reads “Nazi Subs Infest Atlantic Waters,” and Limpet the fish decides to become Limpet the hero of the North Atlantic by working with the navy to track down and destroy enemy U-boats.
That’s about it. Director Arthur Lubin, who had made things like Abbott and Costello’s “Buck Privates” and “Hold That Ghost,” plus “Francis, the Talking Mule” and over a hundred episodes of TV’s “Mr. Ed,” helms the movie as though it were another television show. He takes no chances, downplaying almost every character and scene. Poor Don Knotts, who could be so funny in visual humor, gets reduced to spending most of the film as simply a voice, and whether as a human or as a cartoon fish he acts quite subdued. Well, at least the animated fish looks like Knotts. There’s little energy in the production, making the movie seem longer than it is. It doesn’t help, either, that the film’s underwater action doesn’t start until well into the plot, with the first twenty or so minutes devoted purely to exposition.
Perhaps what is also disappointing is that the animation is only so-so. Don’t expect anything like the artwork Disney produced or even Warner Bros. for its Looney Tunes cartoons. Given the high profile this movie had, and the fact that the studio promoted it as the first full-length film to use integrated live-action and animation, it seems surprising that the artwork would be so ordinary.
In addition, there are several romantic entanglements concerning Limpet and others that appear wholly extraneous and unnecessary, as though the filmmakers were simply trying to pad the story for a few extra minutes. And, finally, the movie’s musical numbers come up as sounding as mundane and unmemorable as its characters.
In other words, I found “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” a pretty slow-going affair. It’s how I felt about the movie when I first watched it on television years ago, and how it struck me this more-recent time. Still, those youngsters in the family might get a kick out of the cartoon aspect of the story. Unless they just get tired. It is overlong at 99 minutes.
Warner engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a single-layer BD25 to transfer the movie to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio, 1.85:1 (actually 1.78:1). Colors are bright, and the print is in fairly good shape, with no egregious signs of age deterioration. However, while a native film grain gives the picture a natural film-like appearance, the grain is also rather severe at times, especially during the undersea sequences. Close-ups look well defined, long shots not so detailed, and there is a general roughness about the image that one cannot help noticing.
Lossless DTS-HD Master Audio reproduces the soundtrack’s 1.0 monaural audio. Its primary virtue is a clean, clear midrange, making the dialogue, which is virtually all there is to the soundtrack, easy to follow. Otherwise, there is a limited frequency range and dynamic response, and, of course, no surround.
Among the extras on the disc is an introduction by Don Knotts, about three minutes; a vintage featurette, “Weekend at Weeki Wachee,” a ten-minute promo on the movie’s underwater première in Florida with star and filmmaker interviews; and a series of brief character profiles, “Mr. Limpet’s Fish Tank,” with Knotts commenting on some of his co-stars.
Beyond those items, there are thirty scene selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English and Spanish spoken languages; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The story and characters in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” seem like a good fit for a fifteen or twenty-minute short feature. Stretched to almost 100 minutes, it becomes a chore for any adult (or anyone over twelve) to watch. And for its youthful audience, I’m not sure the high-definition Blu-ray picture will make much of a difference.