Don Knotts will forever be remembered as Deputy Barney Fife on 'The Andy Griffith Show.' a role that won him a record five Emmys for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. However, his resume offers more than his portrayal of an iconic TV character. After deciding not to renew his contract when the initial five years was up, though he would return for guest appearances during the remainder of the series, Knotts left to focus on movies. He starred in a number for Universal through the latter half of the '60s and became a Disney regular during the '70s. He would return to television in 1979 to play another memorable character, landlord Mr. Furley in 'Three's Company'.
What may have given Knotts the confidence to leave 'The Andy Griffith Show' was his first starring role in 'The Incredible Mr. Limpet,' a live-action/animated children's film. The bulk of the story takes place in 1941 as war rages in Europe but before the attack of Pearl Harbor. Knotts plays Henry, a bespectacled bookkeeper whose fascination with fish distracts him at both work and at home. The latter is a particular problem for his wife Bessie (Carole Cook). Henry is jealous of his pal George Stickle (Jack Weston), who enlisted in the Navy, sincee Henry's poor vision and faulty equilibrium got him classified as 4F. It's never spoken of, likely because it's a children's film, but there seems to be something going on between Bessie and George.
One day while visiting Coney Island, Henry makes a wish and then falls off the pier. I kind of I wonder if it may have been deliberate. Though presumed dead, Henry's wish is granted, and through the magic of the Warner Brothers animators (including people like Robert McKimson who worked on many 'Looney Tunes' and 'Merrie Melodies' cartoons) he becomes a fish, but one who still needs his glasses. Henry soon learns it's a fish-eat-fish world under the sea, but he is befriended by a hermit crab he calls Crusty (Paul Frees). He also saves a lady fish he names Ladyfish (Elizabeth MacRae, speaking in hushed tones that bring to mind Marilyn Monroe). Things get a bit odd for a kid's movie when she wants to show her thanks by taking him to spawning ground. His recent transformation has diminished his human sensibilities so he doesn't understand fish affairs just yet.
Henry also learns he can create a sonic blast, which he calls a "thrum," and hopes he can somehow use it against German U-boats. Soon after, the U.S. declares war, yet Pearl Harbor isn't mentioned. Henry first appears to the Navy as a disembodied voice, but proves to be a valuable asset, working with George. The Nazis take great damage and eventually develop a torpedo that can track his thrum, setting up the question: can one fish take on the German navy.
Though a few scenes strike an odd tone for a children's film, 'The Incredible Mr. Limpet' is pleasant to revisit for those of us who grew up with it. Knotts delivers an enjoyable performance, and the animation is well done, particularly the scenes where it shares the screen with live action elements. Unfortunately, the pacing might be too slow for today's audiences, and no one will mistake it for a Disney film, in part because the songs by Sammy Fain and Harold Adamson are forgettable, sounding like AM radio.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Incredible Mr. Limpet' is a 25GB Region Free Blu-ray disc in a clear ecocase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.78:1. Right from the opening credits, the image reveals bright colors and a healthy amount of grain. Blacks are solid and there's good shadow delineation on land, though in parts of the animated ocean the shadows can be too dark and overwhelming.
The animation of Henry the fish blending with live action scenes looks realistic as it blends very well. The clarity of high definition doesn't ruin the illusion. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rear projection, which looks fake. The use of grainy stock footage, likely 16mm. also stands out, as does the obvious model train.
The scenes underwater, aside from the two-dimensional animation displaying an expected lack of depth, have been processed with effects. There are interesting shimmers of light that cycle through and the focus is soft and wavy to make it appear like the scenes are being viewed through water. Scenes above water have a sharp focus.
Other artistic choices made to the source diminish the visual appearance. Nine minutes in, George waits behind a door as Henry comes home. For some reason they cut to the same scene blown up, creating a blurry and grainy close-up. Single shots of Bessie have the Classic Hollywood soft focus. The day-for-night footage when Henry as a fish speaks to members of the Navy for first time (Yes, he can speak to both fish and humans) looks terrible. Shots of the ocean when the Navy searches for the person they are talking to are so dark I thought something had happened to my TV.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master 1.0 Mono.
The source sounds clean and free of age and defects. Dialogue is clear, though Frees' performance sounds flat. The explosions from depth charges deliver better than expected oomph from the bottom end, as do the exploding torpedoes. There's not much on the high end, resulting in a limited dynamic range.
This is a strictly average track.
The extras were previously released on the 2004 DVD.
'The Incredible Mr. Limpet' is a recommend trip down memory lane whose charm may still be discovered by children of today, if they can handle the slower pace. If you enjoyed the film when you were younger, odds are you still will. The high-definition upgrade does what it can with the limiting source material, but it understandably may not be enough for very discerning consumers. Still, I recommend this one,