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Movie review: Down the ‘Rabbit’ hole

“Jojo Rabbit” is in the tradition of satire that includes the movies of Monty Python (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” 1975; “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” 1979, and “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” 1983) and goes all the way back to at least the infamous Jonathan Swift essay (“A Modest Proposal,” 1729).

Since “Jojo Rabbit” is, in large part, a satire about Adolf Hitler, the movie’s predecessors include Mel Brooks’ movie, “The Producers” (1967) and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940).

Hitler (portrayed by “Jojo Rabbit” screenwriter-director Taika Waititi) has a prominent role in “Jojo Rabbit” as mentor in the overworked imagination of Johannes “Jojo Rabbit” Betzler (an extraordinary Roman Griffin Davis), a German boy who’s a member of the Hitler Youth.

Jojo discovers his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is hiding a preteen Jewish girl, Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), in the attic area of the apartment in which they live.

Jojo and Elsa develop a friendship. Jojo begins a sketchbook which emphasizes drawings and words disparaging Jews (the repugnant drawings are shown onscreen). The film’s plotline has some twists and turns that won’t be revealed here should you choose to see the movie.

Waititi (director, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” 2016; director, “Thor: Ragnarok,” 2017), with Director of Photography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. (“A Walk Among Tombstones,” 2014; “The Master,” 2012), Production Design by Ra Vincent, Art Direction by Radek Hanák and Ondrej Lipensky, Set Design by Nora Sopková, and Costume Design by Mayes C. Rubeo, create in “Jojo Rabbit” a bright, primary-colors palette, formalistic scene framing, delightfully over-the-top costumes, and an exaggerated acting style reminiscent of director Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014).

“Jojo Rabbit,” based on Christine Leunens’ book “Caging Skies,” is a mashup of “The Diary of Anne Frank” (the 1959 movie, 1955 Broadway play and 1942-44 published book, “The Diary of a Young Girl”), for its depiction of the hiding of a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie resembles somewhat Anneliese Marie Frank, 1929-1945), and the “The Producers” and “The Great Dictator,” for its mocking presentation of Hitler.

“Jojo Rabbit” makes a convincing connection between the fictional adulation of Jojo for Hitler in the ditzy, preening and supercilious antics of Hitler as portrayed by Waititi (aka Taika Cohen, a New Zealand filmmaker, actor and comedian self-described as a “Polynesian Jew”) and the actual adulation of German youth (and not only German youth), as depicted early on in the movie in black and white documentary footage of German youth rallies.

“Jojo Rabbit” made me uncomfortable, as does “Springtime for Hitler” and certain parts of “The Producers,” unlike “The Great Dictator,” which I do not find offensive in terms of its humor. “Jojo Rabbit” evokes the brash humor of Andy Kaufman, the gotcha-comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen and the insult comedians Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. “Jojo Rabbit” takes the moviegoer down the rabbit hole of cringe-worthy comedy.

Memorable in supporting roles are Sam Rockwell (Captain Klenzendorf, head of a Hitler Youth camp), Rebel Wilson (Fräulein Rahm, an instructor in the Hitler Youth camp), Stephen Merchant (Deertz, a Gestapo agent) and Archie Yates (Yorki, a friend of Jojo).

“Jojo Rabbit” is nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture (Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi), Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Adapted Screenplay (Taika Waititi), Costume Design (Mayes C. Rubeo), Production Design (Ra Vincent, previously nominated for Production Design Oscar, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” 2013; Nora Sopková) and Editing (Tom Eagles).

“Jojo Rabbit” made me think. It made me think that I wonder what the director was thinking when he wrote and directed the film.

“Jojo Rabbit,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and Genre: Comedy, Drama, War; Run Time: 1 hr., 48 min. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The “Jojo Rabbit” soundtrack includes The Beatles singing “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) in German and David Bowie’s “Helden” (“Heroes”), also sung in German. The film was lensed in the Czech Republic.

Box Office, Jan. 24-26:

Unreel, Jan. 31:

“Gretel & Hansel,” PG-13: Oz Perkins directs Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Jessica De Gouw and Charles Babalola in the fantasy horror film. The “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale is given a grim new twist.

“The Rhythm Section,” R: Reed Morano directs Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown and Daniel Mays in the action thriller. A woman seeks revenge concerning a plane crash in which her family died.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes