In Taika Waititi’s World War II satire, “Jojo Rabbit,” 10-year-old Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is an avid member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler (played with comic flair by Waititi).
He’s excited to spend a weekend learning war skills, including — disastrously — handling knives and explosives.
In one pivotal scene, two of the leaders ask the boys if they’re ready to kill. All enthusiastically say they are. JoJo (as Johannes is nicknamed) is then singled out to prove his willingness to kill. They hand him a rabbit and order him to choke it to death. He freezes, aghast at the thought. Despite their urgings, he puts the rabbit down on the ground and tells it to run. (The brown rabbit blends in almost completely with his uniform, underlining JoJo’s sympathetic bond with the animal.)
Alas, the bunny doesn’t escape. One of the scornful leaders than grabs it, breaks its neck and throws it off the side.
Horrified and ashamed, JoJo runs away as everyone else mocks him as “JoJo Rabbit.”
That’s when he’s joined by his imaginary friend, Adolf, who tells him being called a rabbit is no shame and delivers this speech:
The rabbit is no coward. The humble bunny faces a dangerous world every day. Hunting carrots for his family and his country. My empire will be full of many animals. Lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinoceroses, octopuses, rhino-octopuses. Even the mighty rabbit. Let me give you some good advice. Be the rabbit. The humble bunny can outwit all of his enemies. He’s brave and sneaky and strong. Be the rabbit.”
JoJo is encouraged that he hasn’t blown his chance to be the ideal Nazi. But he beings to rethink his pro-Nazi stance when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl, in their house.
To avoid getting his mother in trouble, he’s got to keep Elsa’s presence a secret. His natural kindness — as demonstrated by his refusal to kill the rabbit — ultimately wins out.
As Waititi says in an on-set interview, the message of the film is, “We need to be more tolerant and spread more love and less hate.”
The film has been nominated for 2 Golden Globes, 6 BAFTAs and 2 SAG Awards.
No animal trainer or provider is credited on the film. Since it was shot in the Czech Republic, it would not have been monitored by Humane Hollywood.