Classify "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" as a kids' film in the vein of Disney's "Benji the Hunted," in that it takes a live animal cast, gives it anthropomorphic detail and offers nary a human in the cast.
Given these limitations, however, "Milo and Otis" is surprisingly good, with a narration by Dudley Moore that has the effect of a father happily reading a bedtime story to his kids, doing goofy voices for the animals and throwing in silly jokes along with the storyline.
Actually, this is a Japanese film called "The Adventures of Chatran," which was reportedly graceful, low-key, with sparse narration and occasional poetry. The four-year project by director Masanori Hata was filmed on his own farmland, with help in the area of its gorgeous cinematography by revered Japanese director Kon Ichikawa.
But when Columbia Pictures purchased it, the film was Americanized. The title was changed, it was re-edited to speed up the action, eliminate the poetry and make the entire picture more juvenile so it will appeal to preschool and elementary-age kids in this country, whose attention span has been reduced to zippy MTV-style commercials and the sarcasm and action of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." At least that's the opinion of Hollywood. And who should know better?
Fortunately, the film maintains an undeniable charm as Milo, a farm kitten, befriends Otis, a farm dog, and the two get in and out of various scrapes upon meeting and becoming friends.
But the film really gets going when Milo jumps in a box near the dock and finds himself floating down a rapid river, Otis in hot pursuit on shore.
They manage to get miles from home and have various adventures apart and then together again.
Among them Otis is rescued by a sea turtle, Milo romps with a deer, Milo digs up a fox's food, they both eventually find love and have offspring and along the way contend with the elements, including a deadly winter.
"Milo and Otis" is at its best when the constant music lets up and the narration fades out and the animals are simply allowed to propel the story along, which isn't often enough.
Despite its drawbacks, however, this remains a lighthearted, joyful film for tots that will surprise parents who expect to be bored when they take their children. It is so beautifully shot and the animals in the cast do so many amazing things that "Milo and Otis" remains a charming, delightful, often quite amusing film for its entire 70 minutes or so.
And some of Moore's jokes are aimed at yuppie parents rather than the children in the audience such as Otis saying to a badger, "Go ahead, make my doggy day," or an obvious reference to Otis Redding's song "Dock of the Bay," as Otis says, "I'm just sitting on the dock, wasting time."
All in all, this is quite a pleasant moviegoing experience for the family to enjoy together.