The Adventures of Milo & Otis (1986) *English-narrated film

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Foreign | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Animals were likely harmed in the making of this wholesome film.

Diary entries, stories, and even a documentary film have given us the infamous trials and tribulations that plagued directors in completing the modern masterpieces of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo. But while we know so much about Francis Ford Coppolla’s and Werner Herzog’s difficulties, it’s unfortunate we don’t know the complete story of author/zoologist Masanori Hata’s four-year adventure in bringing this epic children’s film to life.

The simple story (originally written by Hata and then by Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman for the screen) follows an orange and fearless cat named Milo and the proud Pug dog Otis. They become the best of friends on an animal farm. All is fun and games until, one day, Milo accidentally drifts down a nearby river in a wooden box and Otis attempts to follow him from shore. Thus begins the incredible adventure as they encounter various obstacles to find each other and safely return home.

The simplicity of the story and Dudley Milo2Moore’s spot-on narration in a bedtime story style make this a perfect romp for the youngest youngsters. But while most of these simple flicks will bore the adults, this one adds incredible, mind-boggling stunts as the house pets battle a crab, crow, hedgehog, train, snake, lobster, clam, and a group of seagulls. And if those weren’t enough to sell this movie for adults, Milo survives a waterfall, saves a pig from a Screech Owl, and catches a trout with his tail, while Otis rides a sea turtle and plays with a fox. If you’re still skeptical, one of the most compelling scenes includes a bear cub that tries to eat Milo. In response, Otis dives into the river rapids to take part in an underwater fight with the bear. In a later scene, the bear traps Milo in some dresser drawers and the cat struggles to out-smart it to save its own life. Did I mention that this film is not animated, does not use computer graphics, and has an all-animal cast?

As I wrote earlier, we know very little about the production; suffice to say Hata used 30 animal doubles for the title duo. After viewing the film (or merely reading the list of animal encounters above), viewers can easily deduce that some animals were put in considerably dangerous situations. Had this film been an American (or almost any other country’s) production, animal cruelty groups would have halted production since Day 1. Instead, we had to settle for “tamer” versions of the same with films such as Homeward Bound. For the record, I am not attacking animal rights or defending Hata’s actions. But in the entertainment department, this is a far better movie.

In Japan – the film’s home country – theaters screened The Adventures of Milo & Otis (Koneko Monogatari) as an art film, which I can’t quite imagine. Though much of the film required a documentary style, Hata clearly set up the fictionalized situations and even added some first-person (or should I say first-animal) perspective shots. Though I’d be hard-pressed to consider Milo & Otis an “art film,” Hata’s incredible vision and perseverance paid off to make it a clearly timeless piece of art and a classic children’s film that went largely under the radar.

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