The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Gratuitous propaganda for the U.S. Navy.

Though not a particularly “great” film, this fan favorite captured imaginations and votes of confidence for the U.S. military, while simultaneously notching two cinematic firsts. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is the first mixture of live action and animation – just beating out Mary Poppins, which came out later that year – and it is the first film ever to premiere under water. (OK, so it’s not exactly pioneering a new movement, but it’s a first nonetheless.) It’s a strange combination of under-the-sea Disney releases such as Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid and WWII propaganda comedies like Mister Roberts and Operation Petticoat.

The film takes us to 1941, where we Limpet2meet the nerdy Henry Limpet (Don Knotts). Though he works as a bookkeeper for a shipping line, Limpet dreams of joining the Navy and becoming a war hero (he cannot join due to poor eyesight). In his spare time, Limpet visits pet shops where he watches fish for hours at a time, goes to university lectures on their mating habits, and reads books on his flippered friends. He wants to be a fish himself and becomes fascinated with this new-fangled notion of reverse evolution. Since fish are our ancestors, if humans destroyed themselves, then the current fish population would lead to a new, better race of men – or so Limpet believes. Meanwhile, Limpet’s wife (Carole Cook) badgers him about his strange interests and takes a clear liking to his sailor friend George Stickel (Jack Weston).

After the threesome visits Coney Island and Limpet3Limpet sings the song I Wish I Were a Fish, his wish comes true and he transforms into a spectacles-sporting, animated fish, who promptly makes friends with a crab named Crusty (predating SpongeBob and voiced by Paul Frees) and falls for a Ladyfish (Elizabeth MacRae). Nemo and Mermaid fans will recognize striking similarities in content such as the surly crab, a shark chase, a sunken ship, and Limpet’s finned female counterpart.

Since he can still speak English, Limpet anonymously contacts a Navy ship and helps the war effort by letting them know where the Nazi submarines are located (the Nazis, by the way, wear ominous eye patches and shout a lot). Now, thanks to their secret weapon, the Navy may be able to take down those crazy Germans and win the war.

Knotts plays a perfect comedic role (though not as flamboyant a performance as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or The Apple Dumpling Gang) as a gangly and helpless Limpet who rises to the occasion, gets the girl, and saves the world.

With cheesy songs and music that  can only be described as twinkly, The Incredible Mr. Limpet is as far-fetched and kitschy as they come, with decent, but not spectacular, animation. But it’s also a wholesome and fun little adventure flick that’s perfect for the youngest viewers.

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