Jojo Rabbit: How Can Any Comedy with a WWII Nazi Theme Work?

Taika Waititi’s black comedy riffing on a German boy’s ‘Harvey‘ (strangely enough, a giant Rabbit in the 1950 James Stewart picture)-like imaginary-friend version of Adolph Hitler (played by Waiti) is picked up some strong word of mouth, but also a lot of fear on the part of Disney (new owners of Fox Searchlight) that it could damage their family-friendly brand. The movie was released to critical acclaim, but is this the exception or the new rule?
There’s actually a long history of Nazi-themed comedies/comedy-dramas, including Look Who’s Back (2015 – remade with Mussolini replacing Hitler in 2018), Max (2002 – star Noah Taylor also played Hitler in Preacher), Jakob The Liar (1999), Life is Beautiful (1997), Jerry Lewis’s unreleased The Day the Clown Cried (1972), and Inglorious Basterds (2009), notable for it’s ‘comical’ bullet-ridden Fuhrer.
Mel Brooks even performed a ‘Hitler Rap‘(1984, promoting the movie To Be or Not to Be):

MEL BROOKS - THE HITLER RAP (To Be Or Not To Be) 1984 (Audio Enhanced)

Quite the rapper is our Mel, witness his earlier ‘It’s Good to be The King’ from History of the World Part II (1981):

Also Ken Russell’s experiment in offensiveness A Kitten for Hitler (2007), and way further back Mel Brooks twofer of the aforementioned To Be or Not to Be (1984) & The Producers (1968), also Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940).
Ken Russell, Ken Russells Christmas Movie A Kitten For Hitler.flv
Waiti will be bucking the trend if he can coax many laughs from the subject-matter, with the original Producers a departure from the rubric (IMO). But as I said, maybe Waiti’s goofy take on Adolf will also be an exception to the rule.
Also worth noting that on TV there’s been Sky’s abysmal Heil Honey, I’m Home! (1990) and The Journal of Bridget Hitler (1981).

What do you think? Is Hitler an appropriate subject for comedy?

Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'