Lest anyone misunderstand, Jojo Rabbit is being advertised as an “anti-hate satire.” The message is driven home in the very first scene, where we meet a Nazi youth who is being indoctrinated by Adolf Hitler himself. Filmmaker Taika Waititi plays Der Fuehrer as a farcical figure, except for moments when he gets carried away by his own bombast.

That’s the marvel of Jojo Rabbit, which ricochets from outlandish comedy to drama and back again in the blink of an eye. Waititi makes Hitler and his lieutenants look ridiculous but never mocks the impact of their ugly regime.

That’s where 11-year-old Roman Griffin Davis comes in. He is exceptional as the impressionable boy who comes to idolize Hitler. Along the way, his worldview is reshaped by his loving mother (Scarlett Johansson) and a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie.)

Jojo Rabbit covers the expanse of emotions one would expect to find in a dramatic film about Germany in the waning days of World War II. By focusing on an innocent child and seeing the story through his eyes Waititi humanizes the experience of living under Nazism.

It’s a dazzling achievement from a supremely talented artist who wrote, directed and costars in the film. His young leading man successfully carries the picture, but he is surrounded by a superior cast. Another newcomer, Archie Yates, is hilarious as Jojo’s best friend. Sam Rockwell deserves special mention for portraying an S.S. officer who is alternately threatening and laughable. To elicit laughter and shock in the same picture is no small achievement.

Waititi, who is Jewish, has said that he’s concerned that young people don’t know about this era and the evil that Hitler represented. Given the world we live in, this audacious fable couldn’t be timelier.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024