Yes, That Guy With The Glasses again, but this time it's the Nostalgia Chick, aka Lindsay Ellis. While I may disagree with her on certain issues, I generally appreciate her more analytical approach as opposed to her distaff counterpart's more comedy-minded antics. However, every so often I just can't help but voice my disagreements. Such was the case with The Adventures of Milo & Otis, a fairly inoffensive little film which has a long history of dark, horrible rumours.
Rumour has it that no less than ten kittens died during the production, sometimes even more; one kitten had its paw broken to simulate "uneasy footing"; a pug was forced into fighting for its life against a bear. It's the stuff of nightmares to those who love animals, and sure to engender resentment for those responsible. However, one really has to keep in mind that (as Lindsay herself points out) none of this cruelty and exploitation was actually verified.
I've been interested in rumors about "Milo and Otis" for some time, but I've never been able to resolve this to my satisfaction. Pardon me while I ramble on, however. (In the end, I think we need to enlist the help of someone who's familiar with Japanese and has access to Japanese press clippings.)
In any event, if it were up to me, I'd have to give this an "undetermined" status.
In a nutshell, it seems to come down to the issue of why Masanori Hata had to use so many darned cats in the making of his film. Were thirty "Milos" needed because so many kittens were killed during the filming of dangerous stunts? Or did the filmmaker need multiple kittens because each cat aged over the four years it took to complete filming? Or, were some kittens better at performing certain tasks (like scampering) while others were needed for other acts (like looking adorably into the camera)?
Perhaps the answer lies in a melding of all three.
In August, 1989, Columbia Pictures released "Milo and Otis," a revamped version of the enormously popular Japanese film "Koneko Monogatari: The Adventures of Chatran," which had debuted in Japan three years earlier. As I understand it, "Koneko Monogatari" ("A Kitten's Story") was somewhat less about plot than it was about visual aesthetics; in essence, this was an arty film and not a children's film.
As early as October, 1986, a few months after "Koneko Monogatari" debuted in Japan, rumors about animal cruelty began popping up in Japan and elsewhere. The Economist  noted that,
quote:Such allegations notwithstanding, a few US studios looked at the amazingly successful movie with a view toward releasing it in the States as a children's film. Executives at Columbia picked it up, working on it in their spare time with a limited budget.
Chatran's life is full of trials and tribulations, many of them to do with being soaked to the skin, like falling over a waterfall in a wooden box or plummeting from a cliff into the sea. It is hard to see how he survived. Indeed, according to Japan's biggest animal-rights group, he did not. Or, to be accurate, a third of the 30 Chatrans used did not.
In September, 1989, a month after "Milo and Otis" debuted here, The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy piece  on Columbia's handling of the film:
quote:Despite Columbia's position that there was no basis to the allegations of abuse during the filming of "Koneko Monogatari," however, rumors about animal cruelty -- particularly with reference to the number of animals used -- were at least acknowledged immediately after the debut of "Milo and Otis" here. A review in a New Jersey newspaper  noted that:
The movie germinated when well-known Japanese author Masanori Hata, who owns a huge ranch abounding with animals, made a series of nature films with Japan's biggest commercial TV network, Fujisankei's Fuji TV unit. The films were so successful that Fuji made "The Adventures of Chatran," a movie about a young cat who finds himself floating down a river in a box and spends nearly a year away from home, all the while pursued protectively by a pug dog.[...]
Executives on both sides of the Pacific agreed the film needed to be overhauled, Americanized. "It needed to be tailored to American kids who watch 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,' " says Brandt Reiter, an account executive at Fujisankei.
And there began the real adventures of Milo and Otis.
Jim Clark, the Oscar-winning editor of "The Killing Fields," was assigned to re-edit. Fuji supplied him with almost 70 hours of extra footage. "Some might say we vulgarized it," says Mr. Clark, "but we felt it was on the arty side." The recipe? Lose the poetry. Quicken the pace. Add a long, zany sequence wherein the dog and cat adopt a newborn chick. Add a sea turtle. Bring in a star, Dudley Moore, to narrate the film and do animal voices.
With [children under 10] in mind, Columbia's editors removed graphic scenes of animals fighting and toned down other scary parts. The cat, renamed Milo, still takes a long plunge off a cliff into the ocean, but scenes of him trying in vain to climb back up were cut. (Taming such scenes was also done with animal-rights activists in mind. Studio executives "were terrified of the animal-cruelty people," says Mr. Clark, hastening to add that Columbia hasn't any reason to believe there was any mistreatment involved.)
quote:I'm unsure where the film reviewer for The Toronto Star  got the following bit of information (but it's a claim repeated by a reviewer for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette a year later), but here's a possible explanation for why Hata may have used so many cats:
All [the scenes in which Milo and Otis appear to be in danger] may be momentarily unsettling for young viewers, but, as one might expect, a happy ending is forthcoming. (The entire film runs 76 minutes). Then, too, it's comforting to see in the closing credits that "the animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being."Director Masanori Hata, a trained zoologist and author who writes under the pen name Mutsugoro, cast the movie from a private menagerie of almost 300 animals that he keeps on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. It took Hata, who wrote the story on which the screenplay is based, four years, more than 400,000 feet of film, and dozens of animals (30 different cats played Milo, for example), to complete "The Adventures of Milo and Otis."
quote:In the summer of 1990, The Washington Times  looked at the rumors:
The secret is that Hata is not just a director, but a trained zoologist with a private farm of hundreds of animals. Even so, getting the right shots and movements from his menagerie was a painstaking process that turned "Milo And Otis" into a four-year endeavor.And because the movie revolved around a kitten and puppy, Hata had to keep replacing the aging animals with younger ones as the project stretched on. In the end, dozens of Milos and Otises played the two parts.
quote:(The Humane Society doesn't seem to have section on use of animals in films, and for some reason "Milo and Otis" isn't included in The American Humane Association's current index of film ratings, though this may have been the AHA's position when the film debuted in the States.)
["Milo and Otis"] was released in New York and Los Angeles last year, and ought to have made it down to us by the end of that summer. It waited a while, however, and for unclear reasons. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was around this time that animal-protection groups heard about an article in a Japanese newspaper reporting rumors that animal being used had somehow died during filming. And indeed, a look at the movie's script revealed scenes in which Milo, the cat, falls from a high sea cliff, while Otis, the dog, is seen trudging, naked-pawed, through drifts of real snow.
Had the filmmakers committed acts of lethal cruelty? Along with groups in Europe, the Hollywood branch of the American Humane Society investigated -- but found nothing suspicious.The Humane Society continues to harbor doubts about the whole idea of showing domestic pets at large in the wilderness. Humans may get the impression that dogs and cats can survive under harsh outdoor conditions, and unintentionally endanger their own pets. A casual aside in press materials noting that the filmmakers had "bred" cats to serve as additional, backup Milos might also prompt concern.
While the rumours and insinuations might sound convincing, without actual evidence or proof - even after investigations by animal rights authorities - it seems extremely ill-advised to perpetuate these rumours, and it's very irritating to use logical fallacies ("but it looks so real!" "just because you can't prove it happened didn't mean it didn't happen!" "but the Japanese eat cats, don't they?") to support the horrible idea that animal cruelty was happening in a film.
I'm not going to deny that there are some things that wouldn't fly with the AHA like the cat in the water and so forth. But it's a slippery slope fallacy to say "well, if they throw a cat off a cliff (noting that cat's righting reflexes mean that a fall that would kill another animal won't harm a cat - again, not saying it should've been done under any circumstances, but there is a difference between tossing a cat and a dog of the same size from a cliff in that the cat will probably survive) then they'd probably be willing to kill twenty kittens for a shot!" It's a dangerous route to go down. "Well, they didn't have anyone from the AHA there, that means they must have been treating animals cruelly!"
Case in point, that "fight" between the pug and the bear, which looks nothing of the sort: if that bear was actually fighting that pug, you wouldn't be able to show it on Blip for all the blood and dog limbs. That looked like two animals playing, nothing more. The suggestion that scenes were cut because they depicted animal cruelty - as opposed to being cut for being scary, violent, or just because of the US's editing ideas - kinda falls apart when you consider the scenes cut that don't depict supposed cruelty. Lindsay also talks about "speculation into just how many kittens died during filming" - a phrase implying that kittens did die, but the ambiguity is about how many, instead of being ambiguous about the fact that any kittens died in the first place. Another was the kitten with the alleged broken paw: again, even if you didn't acknowledge that a kitten would not lick a broken limb, it's common practise to simply put a dab of water on a cat's paw to simulate such limping - and you see the cat doing pretty much what it would do in that situation.
Again, I'm not denying that the stuff we see on screen is uncomfortable and I doubt would be done if the AHA were present. These are the people who demanded that a maggot being fed to a bird be replaced with one made of baby food in The Shawshank Redemption. Keep in mind that they give some films "Unacceptable" ratings even if they weren't present, relied entirely on second hand information, or even if the animal cruelty didn't have any effect on the film itself: Ferryman because of "reports" that thirty sheep were burned alive during production, The 40-Year-Old Virgin because the production accidentally killed some aquarium fish after filming had ended, while some films like One Man's Hero, Conan the Barbarian, and The Long Riders had the rating simply because it looked like the horses were tripped with wires. They even objected to the entirely lawful and humane slaughter of pigs in Southern Comfort. On the other hand, they are willing to reassess their position when evidence comes to light, as in the case of Lucky Duke: Daisy Town. These people did not find any evidence of animal cruelty in Milo & Otis, and if anyone was going to find it, it would be them.
I certainly don't think it's fair to compare it to something like Cannibal Holocaust, when the AHA itself didn't find any evidence. I just believe there's a significant difference between putting an animal in questionable and possibly dangerous circumstances, and torturing, murdering, and dismembering an animal on camera, regardless of whether it's going to be eaten or not. Unless you're going to claim some sort of O.J. Simpson type situation occurring, but given how passionate and notoriously specific the AHA and other organizations are about animals, I don't doubt they weren't thorough.
Now, do you know what's weird about this? I've never seen The Adventures of Milo & Otis. I have exactly zero nostalgic connections and no warm fuzzy childhood memories, and frankly, it doesn't look that interesting a film to me, even though I love media with animals anthropomorphized through narration. I have no interest in it, no investment, no care in how it's received. So why did I react so strongly to the presentation of the animal cruelty rumours as all but factual, if I wasn't personally invested in the film?
Here's another example, albeit naturally a bit closer to home: Cracked's article on 6 Historical Villains Who Were Actually OK Guys. Number 1 on the list is... Edward 1st. Of England. That Edward 1st.
For starters, Longshanks didn't just storm into Scotland because he felt like taking over; he went in to mediate a matter which was on the verge of causing civil war. "So?" you may well ask, "Who asked him to butt into Scotland's business?"...um, Scotland. Scotland asked.
That's right, Scotland more or less begged Longshanks to come over and start meddling in their affairs. Here's a compressed version of how it all went down:
Scotland: Help us, Edward Longshanks, you're our only hope!
Longshanks: Sure, I'll be glad to help. But first, I'll be needing Scotland.
Scotland: You'll be needing Scotland to do what?
Longshanks: To belong to England. I'll be needing you to give me Scotland.
Scotland: Oh. Er. Hm. OK, you can have our country, as long as you give it back when you're done.
Longshanks: ...Sure. I'll give it back. (rolls eyes)
Scotland: Huzzah! I don't see how this could possibly go wrong!
Seriously, Scotland? Had you even met England before? Sure, Edward broke his word, but in the history of hostile takeovers, this one ranks just about highest in "They were fucking asking for it."
Anyway, the whole Scotland fiasco was just the very end bit of Edward's reign. He spent the first 20 years or so at home writing a crapload of laws that revolutionized England forever. Most of them are pretty abstract to the lay person, but for example, did you know he helped implement several statutes which essentially made up England's first constitution? Wow! Or that he eased debt with a series of stringent anti-usury laws? Holy balls!
Braveheart fans, consider this--which is the more noble sacrifice to make for your country: leading your people in battle against an unbeatable enemy, inevitably dying in a blaze of glory? Or being the f****** King of England, and using that insane godlike power to spend decades drafting complex legislation so that the people can enjoy stable governance after you're dead? Yeah, we thought so.
- the conquest and subjugation of Wales
- the wholesale destruction of Wales' royal legacy
- Hanging, drawing and quartering a childhood friend for resisting his attempts to annex his homeland
- the destruction of a monastery containing the remains of a Welsh king, culminating in the desecration of said remains and disposal in the sea
- The execution of an unspecified number (usually 500) Welsh bards who refused to sing his praises
- the expulsion of the Jewish population of England, who wouldn't return until Cromwell's time
- The Capture of Berwick
- Assaulted Edinburgh castle even after it surrendered just so he could try out his new toy, which is bordering on comic-book supervillainy
- Rounding up and imprisoning Scottish aristocracy, including children