German boy scouts, an imaginary Adolf Hitler and some very over the top accents: Disney’s Nazi satire has all the hallmarks of a close-to-the-bone comedy gem.
Yet a few months ahead of its release, the film is apparently in troubled waters thanks to unease among the film company executives who inherited it.
An article by Variety, the entertainment website widely read in Hollywood, detailed concerns in Disney’s hierarchy about the comedy ‘Jojo Rabbit’.
One Disney executive reportedly “grew audibly uncomfortable” at an internal screening, asking whether the cutting-edge humour could alienate Disney fans.
The tensions are just one point of friction that has emerged as Disney, one of the world’s most well-known film brands, attempts to incorporate the Twentieth Century Fox empire into its business after a takeover.
Variety also reported frustrations from figures attached to other Fox projects now being overseen by Disney, including a claim that some of the films have not been given the promotional attention expected.
Jojo Rabbit is written and directed by Taika Waititi, the New Zealand filmmaker and comic actor who recently directed the Marvel superhero film Thor: Ragnarok.
A blurb on the film’s official website describes it as “a Second World War satire that follows a lonely German boy whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic”.
The summary goes on: “Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.”
A one-minute trailer is already out, giving a sense of the deadpan humour the film, which sees Waititi playing Hitler, appears to be targeting.
One scene sees the imaginary Hitler comforting the boy after he is called scared by his peers by drawing on his own past experiences.
“People used to say a lot of nasty things about me,” Hitler says, quoting phrases like “this guy’s a lunatic” and “look at that pschyo he’s going to get us all killed”. He follows the comments with a shrug.
The cast includes a number of big-name actors, including Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell and Bafta-winner Scarlett Johansson, and is due out in the autumn. It is being released by Fox: Searchlight, known for hits such as The Full Monty, Little Miss Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire and The Favourite.
The film’s edgy humour could clash with Disney’s family-friendly image, best known for producing films suitable for both children and parents.
Fox has overseen a number of notable flops since joining Disney, including X-Men: Dark Phoenix and the action comedy Stuber. Disney, meanwhile, has been enjoying a record-breaking run of blockbuster hits, including Avengers: Endgame, Aladdin and The Lion King.
Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told Variety: “If Disney hadn’t bought Fox and they were just going along with business as usual, there’d still be lay-offs and there’d be a For Sale sign on the lot. There’s no way they’d have been able to survive in this climate.”