Day 6 – A Movie from Your Childhood
As an (alleged) adult, my entire life has been shaped by decisions made in my youth. Big ones, little ones, all contributing to who I am today—if I had known how significantly, say, my preferred brand of breakfast cereal would impact my perspective on world economics (Cocoa Pebbles, you mean, mean b@%#$), I probably wouldn’t have left the house. Few events have shaped my current self than my preferred movies, and today we’ll be examining one of these classics from days of yore.
The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1989)
I decided to forgo a Disney movie, partly because I’m already doing a whole series about them, but mostly because Disney was a part of nearly everyone’s childhood, so I thought I’d branch out and do something a little more… exclusive. I’ve only run into a few people who have also seen The Adventures of Milo and Otis, and every time I do, I feel as if we’re part of some sort of secret society (“No way, I was a Free Masons member growing up too!”). If watching a movie about English-narrated animals makes you feel tantamount to joining the Stonecutters, that’s a good sign of a movie’s feeling of… exclusivity.
The Adventures of Milo and Otis is the story of a cat, a dog, and their eponymous adventures, as narrated by Dudley Moore. Milo, the cat, is a mischievous bottle of spunky energy, while Otis, the dog, is the responsible straight-man (-dog?) of the pair. Milo and Otis spend their days enjoying time on the farm where they live, when one day Milo is carried away by the nearby river, leaving Otis to try to find him. The two go on several adventures before eventually meeting again, only to split up when Milo finds a mate (Otis finds one too), before the two and their families finally reunite and head back to the farm.
Along the way, Milo and Otis meet a whole slew of other animals, like this pig.
I’m underselling the charm of the project. Made in a time well before the advent of CGI-enabled lip synching (hell, even before Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey), there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about The Adventures of Milo and Otis that I find absolutely captivating. For one, there is a sense of gentleness to the film I find immensely appealing—absent is the usual ass and crap humor found in many horrid movies masquerading as children’s entertainment, and there is nary an abrasive, obnoxious moment to be found. Instead, the entertainment comes from the characters, the narrative, and Moore’s wonderful, whimsical delivery throughout. So unforced is the movie’s attempt to provide entertainment, I am almost positive the movie would flop in 2011 if given a wide release, if it was even greenlit at all.
What I find more remarkable about The Adventures of Milo and Otis now than as a child is the sheer amount of work that must have gone into actually making the movie. Whatever training was given to these animals (and there are a ton of them), it must have been something else, because Milo, Otis, and the entire cast behave exactly like Moore’s anthropomorphized narration— bears and raccoons squabble over fish, dogs and cats play hide-and-seek, and Milo saves a baby pig from certain aerial doom. Come to think of it, the editing tricks used to make the animals appear to be engaged in dialogue, as well as small bits like Otis pulling Milo out of a pit with a rope, are rather ingenious.
Aye, sea turtles.
Milo and Otis is an American recut of a 1986 Japanese film called Koneko Monogatari (“Kitten’s Story”), edited down from roughly 40 hours of footage shot over four years. Perhaps this is why Milo and Otis has such a distinct flavor; not only is it bereft of wa-acky bits, but it takes completely seriously its storybook notion of talking, conversing animals, as well as the relational aspects that come with it. It’s almost a character study as much as it is a Talking Animal movie, with both Milo and Otis having distinct arcs and developmental journeys. Rare is it to find a film in 2011 with such well-developed and -respected characters, let alone from a localized adaptation of a Japanese movie about chatting barnyard wildlife.
The Adventures of Milo and Otis is a film I find just as charming now as I did when I first watched it as a child. It has some elements that have aged a bit poorly (“Walk Outside” has aged poorly since my initial viewings), but the overall product is still satisfying, and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.