Is 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' (aka 'Koneko monogatari') really already celebrating its 25th anniversary?! I remember watching this film when I was knee high to a grasshopper (alright, maybe I was taller than that...), and again decades later, and still found this quirky little animal feature to be a load of fun, with such adorable animals. Time sure flies, and, come to think of it, every animal in the film is probably dead by now, even the sea turtle.
Now that you're depressed, thinking about a mass grave of animals featured in this film (or a mass feast...), you may be in the right mindset to watch the film again. This Japanese critter feature, filmed over four years and compiled from over forty hours of footage, is controversial, due to longstanding claims about animal cruelty to create proper conditions for particular scenes, and the sheer logistics of a bear swatting and batting at miniscule little house pets does make the mind wander. Heck, there are even urban legends about the number of cats and dogs that didn't quite make it through the filming. The ugliness seems to be as memorable as the beauty that this film represents. Watching this film as an adult may bring up many different reactions than it did if you saw it in your youth...cats down waterfalls? crabs and lobsters clipping at critters? Snowy conditions? As a former pug owner, even the thought of one of these snout nosed little pups running around outside for too long sounds serious and dangerous, their respiratory system not being all that up to snuff.
Adapted from the 90 minute Japanese film, 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' is 76 minutes of absolutely adorable wonder, as we follow a pair of farm yard best friends, a cuddly cat named Milo and a pug nosed pug named Otis, as they play and learn, before eventually setting off on a great adventure and a long journey home. As the two friends traverse the elements and other dangerous animals, they grow into adulthood, and learn all there is about life, love, and friendship. And bears. Don't forget bears.
Had this film been presented any other way than it is here, it might not be tolerable, as it's a very slow moving movie. However, with Dudley Moore providing the narration and each and every voice, it's impossible not to find yourself falling for the cuteness and innocence presented in this film. As Moore talks, he occasionally slips in grunts, barks, and other animal noises into his performance, and as ridiculous as it sounds, it's utterly charming and unique. If anything, the narration is what appeals to me most, as the unpredictability of it, even having seen it a number of times, it's just too much. Imagining the man in the recording booth making a fool of himself, it's really endearing.
'Milo and Otis' is a fantastic film achievement, despite the potential (ahem, probable) ugliness behind it. The interactions the animals have with each other, as Moore narrates their thoughts, it's too darned cute. You see Otis swatting Milo away from an egg he's supposed to guard, and you really think the dog is thinking exactly what Moore is saying, the way these creatures are trained or manipulated in a number of memorably adorable scenes is just beyond comprehension. The logistics are also amazing, watching the critters scramble into boxes out of rivers, climbing trees fighting with snakes, or swatting at a bear a thousand times their weight.
This film doesn't remind me of my awesome little pug, as there is about zero commonality between the two. Otis isn't a fast snorting little devilish fiend who did his best to imitate human emotion on a regular basis. That isn't what draws me to this film. Nor does Milo. What draws me to this feature is the daunting challenge that it represents, the amazingly complex performances and logistics behind them, and the absolutely embarrassing, yet endearing narration. This is a film that has aged incredibly well, though it may be best viewed every few years, instead of on a regular rotation.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc, with little pre-menu junk, and a resume play feature. The typical Sony Blu-ray promo found in the disc's introduction is also in the menu, under the guise of the title "previews." Yeah, preview the same commercial that's on every other disc, that we just watched. That makes sense, yessir.
What doesn't make sense is the release strategy of this title. See, it bowed unceremoniously (supposedly) on September 27, 2011, but no one had it. Some Wal-Mart stores across the country have been reportedly selling this two disc combo pack for ten bucks. What few stores did get this title only got a couple of copies, making for a difficult situation for buyers: check every Wal-Mart within whatever mile radius they find acceptable, or pay an arm and a leg for a copy of the film on Ebay. Walmart.com does not even have a listing for this product. There are rumors this title was potentially recalled, but as of yet, there is nothing that can be verified about its distribution status.
'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' comes to Blu-ray in 1080p at 1.85:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 encode. The end result is a little uneven.
Detail levels are the issue here. Many shots, I'd say the majority of the film, is just not all that sharp, or vivid. Grass doesn't always distinguish its individual blades, even if it's always a solid green, hair doesn't always come through with character, and the contrast levels are weak at best. Whites aren't exactly clean, while a few shots are a bit wavy, and others a tad hazy. Stray hairs pop nicely, and there are an assortment of very clear moments, even if they aren't ones that will wow. Dark shots are problematic, with visible artifacting in the opening scenes in the barn in the black areas readily seen, and detail levels drop to near nothing for these moments.
No doubt anyone interested in this film picked it up as one of the staples of the Wal-Mart $5 DVD bin, and I'm certain they'll spot a significant difference in clarity and detail. Considering the amazing catalog titles we've seen in recent months and years, this one is a bit disappointing.
"How does a dog talk to a clam?!?"
Shocker of the year: 'Milo and Otis' doesn't sound like crap on Blu-ray. If anything, just the opposite. I know, I was expecting the worst, but this Sony release is surprisingly involved and full of a go-get-'em attitude. The opening score hits all angles perfectly with fine separation and localization, with some nice depth to the bass guitar registering in the subwoofer, and this spread out music continues throughout the film consistently. The Dudley Moore narration dropped my jaw, it's so clear and sharp, it sounds absolutely perfect. Music swells nicely, with great high ends and volume spikes, keeping the experience from being mundane, while directionality is top notch, with the simplest scenes, like the ones featuring the river properly flowing in the right direction. The only problem I have with this track is the way animal noises are oft overpowered by the score and narration, as whimpers and even hisses barely register. This is a problem inherent in the film, though, to minimize the natural sounds of the critters (apparently) to make them seem more human.
Impressive, most impressive.
Aside from the bargain bin DVD copy of this film, the lone extra is a Theatrical Trailer in HD.
Not everyone likes live action animal movies with moving lips or computer effect mouth movement to pass off for the creatures speaking. No, some of us would rather have a tale that's more natural, and that's exactly what 'The Adventures of Milo and Otis' is. Told through amazingly sweet, funny narration, this film is a real treat, though it's a very, very slow mover. This Blu-ray release is a pain in the rear to find, and it features mediocre video qualities. The audio, however, is great! If you come across this title, pick it up, as who knows when you'll get another chance!