Robin Williams has always had two distinct audiences -- those who prefer his dark, dramatic performances in ‘Dead Poets Society,’ ‘Good Will Hunting,’ and ‘One Hour Photo,’ and those who enjoy his light-hearted work in ‘Jumanji,’ ‘RV,’ and ‘License to Wed.’ Williams has also starred in films that attempt to pander to both groups of fans. When it was released in 1993, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ aimed to combine the heart-wrenching drama of a family in crisis with the endless humor of a quick-witted, cross-dressing father fighting to keep them together. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film’s balance of laughs and tears when I was a naïve teenager, my more recent obsession with the actor’s bleak dramas made me wonder if ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ could work its magic on my ripened, cynical mind.
Daniel Hillard (Williams) is an unemployed voice-over actor whose irresponsibility and unreliability force the court to award custody of his three children to his ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field). Desperate to spend more time with his kids, Daniel disguises himself as an elderly British nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire and applies for a job as Miranda’s housekeeper. Tasked with raising his own children, Daniel’s new role as a responsible caretaker forces him to make some tough decisions, but as he grows closer to his children as a wise old woman, his ruse becomes more and more difficult to maintain. When his dual identities begin to unravel, he must face Miranda’s distrust, his children’s confusion, and the state’s judgment.
When considering the gamut of Robin Williams' comedies, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ is one of the best of his lighter fare. Despite a few overly obvious gags (mainly centered around the warping or removal of Daniel’s prosthetics), the humor is infectious, and his chemistry with Field is one of the best elements of the film. Williams makes it clear that Daniel has never fallen out of love with Miranda -- his compassion and his rage both stem from powerful feelings of betrayal and regret. The desperation he exudes in her presence is heart-breakingly realistic, allowing Williams to engage his dramatic talents in several key scenes that offer insight into the characters and the way they deal with lost love and the pain of their past.
Williams’ humble interactions with the film’s young actors are so believable that they also allow his character to emerge as a three-dimensional parent. When any other actor is on screen, Williams works overtime to hold his audience’s attention, but when one of the younger actors appears, he steps aside and graciously gives them the stage. In fact, compared to the hammy relationships he develops with some of the other adults in the film, Williams seems most at home when he’s sharing a scene with the kids. His delivery is softer, his personality is more measured, and his eruptions aren’t as volatile as they are elsewhere in the film. He effectively creates a character whose love is never called into serious question. Daniel’s ex-wife and the courts may be dissatisfied with his behavior, but Williams makes it entirely clear that Daniel’s a decent guy who genuinely cares for his family.
Therein lies my only reservation: ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ sometimes slips into the same candy-coated sentimentality that dominates countless other films of its ilk. Even though Williams plays the resident bad-boy of the story, he transforms Daniel into a well-intentioned manchild who learns to grow up, embrace his role as a misunderstood super-dad, and win the heart of everyone involved. The resulting comedy may offer viewers numerous laughs, but the predictability of the drama risks groans and stares. The sappiness of a few character interactions reveal the singular weakness -- there isn’t an actual antagonist or adversary to be found anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to see the Hillards entrenched in cynical realism, but I did long to see the characters react in a manner that conveyed more substance than the usual Hollywood cut-outs.
Ah well, at the end of the day I must say that ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ has aged pretty well over the last fifteen years. It may no longer be my ideal cup of tea, but it still managed to draw out plenty of laughs and genuine emotional responses. If you can get past the sentimentality and the sappier sensibilities of the story, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ offers a solid dose of rainy-day fun for the whole family.
Fox presents ’Mrs. Doubtfire’ in a remarkable 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks quite good for a film thats approaching its fifteenth birthday. Vibrant colors and comfortable contrast work hand in hand to craft impressive exterior and interior scenes. The picture also demonstrates a knack for rendering natural skintones, deep blacks, and revealing delineation. In spite of a few flushed faces and a handful of less-than-perfect nighttime shots, the film doesn’t look nearly as old as it is. A quick comparison to the DVD reveals a stronger, more stable image and an increased level of detail that adds a three-dimensional quality to the picture. Clothing and skin texture, hair and stubble, and the stitches on Mrs. Doubtfire’s dresses are crystal clear and (for the most part) incredibly sharp. Best of all, the print isn’t hindered by any noticeable wear, source noise, or edge enhancement.
I did catch a few errant issues that will be familiar to fans of high-def catalog releases. Random shots are slightly softer than the rest of the film, contrast occasionally flutters, and detail is sometimes lost in the heaviest shadows. Still, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ looks better than ever, outclasses the standard DVD in every way, and makes it easy for fans to purchase the film one more time.
’Mrs. Doubtfire’ features a decent DTS HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 surround track that renders the film’s conversational mix with technical proficiency. The soundfield won’t win awards for its subtleties, but dialogue is crisp, clear, and nicely prioritized across the front channels. LFE support is fairly engaging considering the nature of the genre and each voice has a robust presence amidst the otherwise predictable musical score. Sound effects are stable, pans are transparent, and directionality makes it easy to identify the spatial location of each element in the mix. Compared to the standard DVD, the increased fidelity of the Blu-ray’s DTS HD track makes it clear this new version is the one to beat.
Unfortunately, nothing else about the mix stands out. The rear channels are reserved for light ambiance and slap-stick support, but their involvement is limited at best. My only legitimate technical issues revolve around some shoddy looping that sticks out like a sore thumb, and a bit of air noise that haunts a few exterior scenes. Even so, I don’t have much else to complain about since the DTS HD MA track does its job and does it well. I just wish the sound designers had taken more time to develop an immersive mix that could wow modern high-def listeners.
Like Fox’s recent Behind-the-Scenes features on the standard DVD released in March, this new Blu-ray edition offers fans a surprising amount of bonus content, but lacks the director’s commentary included on previous DVD and Laserdisc releases. Once again, Fox teases its supporters with a vast reservoir of content, only to hold back enough significant supplemental material to justify a definitive release of the film in the future. Frankly, considering the fact that the video features on tap are presented in standard definition, there’s simply no excuse for the missing audio track. Had the commentary made an appearance, the supplemental package would easily have earned a higher score. This inane game Fox continues to play with consumers is growing very old very fast.
’Mrs. Doubtfire’ may not sidestep the sentimentality of its genre brethren, but it provides plenty of laughs and genuine character drama to make up for its shortcomings. Most fans of the film will be pleased with this new Blu-ray release -- it features an excellent video transfer, an above-average DTS HD lossless audio track, and a host of behind-the-scenes bonus content. However, completists will be disappointed by Fox's decision to leave Chris Columbus’ director’s commentary on the cutting room floor. If you’ve been waiting for a definitive edition of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ keep your eyes peeled for a more comprehensive high-def release in the future.