The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)

G   |    |  Adventure, Drama, Family


The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) Poster

The adventures of a young cat and a dog as they find themselves accidentally separated and each swept into a hazardous trek.


7/10
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  • Chatran in The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
  • Chatran in The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
  • Chatran and Pû in The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
  • Chatran and Pû in The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
  • The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
  • The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)

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12 July 2007 | ackstasis
9
| A truly lovely children's tale; brims with magic, beauty and adventure
As a young boy, I had an almost-obsessive love of animals and adventure, and so it should come as no surprise that 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' was one of my all-time favourite childhood films. Unfortunately, the battered and overused VHS tape on which I had initially watched the film had, for years, been tragically misplaced, and so I'd never had an opportunity to relive the joys and wonders of a film I'd loved for so long. Luckily, however, whilst browsing through a table of children's DVDs at a store, I happened upon this familiar title, and so I wasted no time in snatching it up and purchasing it. Time and maturity, it seems, has done little to dilute the absolute cinematic magic of this extraordinary film.

Originally a darker Japanese film entitled 'Koneko monogatari {A Kitten's Story / The Adventures of Chatran},' the extensive 400,000 feet of footage from one-time director Masanori Hata was taken by Columbia Pictures and completely changed, trimmed (from 90 to 76 minutes) and Westernised into the adorable children's tale of a cat named Milo and his canine best friend, Otis. Whilst the Japanese version – a huge box office success in its home country – had been narrated by Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, British comedy actor Dudley Moore helmed the American version, providing the voices for all the creatures in the film. Notably, 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' doesn't contain a single human actor, though we certainly do see traces of human habitation, most noticeably in a train and in Milo and Otis' beloved farmhouse.

The film begins at the aforementioned farm, with a pregnant feline mother giving birth to a litter of cats in the upper floor of the barn. One young kitten, Milo, proves himself to be more adventurous and troublesome than his siblings, and an unexpected tumble from the barn loft sees him meeting a young pug puppy by the name of Otis. There is an oddly-touching moment when Otis announces himself to be not a cat, but a dog. Milo tentatively replies, "but... deep down inside, we're all cats, right?" Despite being of stereotypically opposing species, Milo and Otis form a life-long friendship, becoming the best of companions and accompanying each other on their numerous exciting adventures. One day, however, during their favourite game of hide-and-seek, Milo jumps into a wooden box beside the jetty, and it is suddenly swept downriver by the current. Otis, seeing his friend in distress, does his best to help, but he is not quick enough to prevent Milo from drifting further and further away from the farmhouse. As the uneasy cat begins to stray into scarily unfamiliar territory, he faces an array of difficult adversities – including a hungry bear, a flock of seagulls, a venomous snake and a cavernous pit – though he can always rely on the fact that his good pal Otis will always be in hot pursuit, despite his own share of potentially hazardous situations.

Contrary to what some have commentated, 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' is most certainly a children's film at heart, with a wonderful message of dedication, loyalty and friendship. Perhaps some parents may feel tentative about the scene in which both Milo and Otis' female companions give birth to litters of youngsters; however, it's hardly graphic or obscene in any real way, successfully translating, I thought, the wonder of life and birth. The footage, which was filmed over four years, breathtakingly captures the splendour of the Japanese countryside, containing countless truly inspired moments of photography from cinematographers Hideo Fujii and Shinji Tomita. The lovely field of blossoms, where the kind-hearted doe teaches Milo to frolic, springs straight to mind as a particularly memorable moment. Additionally, adults should also enjoy the narration from Dudley Moore, whose gentle voice and subtle humour speaks to both kids and adults. There is also that infectious theme tune, "Walk Outside," written by Dick Tarrier and performed by Dan Crow.

It is unfortunate that a continuous spate of controversy has slightly tarnished this lovely film's name. It is not uncommon to come across completely unfounded claims that animals were tortured and even killed during the making of the film. After carrying out some research of my own, I can find absolutely no substantiated evidence to support these allegations, most of which were probably concocted based on a single viewing of the film. Indeed, there are moments during 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' when our favourite animal characters appear to be in potentially dangerous situations. Rather than being evidence of clear cruelty, it would be more accurately described as clever film-making. It is often remarkable to realise how effectively carefully-chosen camera angles, quick cuts, slow-motion and trained animals can be used to create the illusion of mortal peril.

Additionally, the closing credits proclaim that "the animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost concern for their handling." Though some have affirmed that these titles explicitly avoid the use of the term "no animals were harmed," I venture that this phrase was never of customary-use until after 1989, the year of the film's US release. Unfortunately, the American Humane Association has not issued an animal cruelty review for the film, which would have finally put an end to all the heated debate. Contrary to what some have stated, my humble research has discovered that director Masanori Hata was a respected zoologist who owned a private animal farm near Hokkaido. Also taking into account the large time-span over which 'Milo and Otis' was filmed (in many cases, Hata simply let his animal actors roam free and filmed their natural actions), it seems unlikely that such an animal-lover would allow any of his mammalian friends to come to harm. I regret that so much of my review has been dedicated to such a grim topic, since this is truly a remarkable children's movie, brimming with wonder and magic that is sure to inspire all who see it.

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