Review:
The Adventures of Chatran (1986) [Columbia Pictures]

Class: Staff
Author: Miles Imhoff
Score: (3.5/5)
Published:
September 23, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Aww, it's just the cutest thing on four legs! This is a film that I've heard about for a long time, and I've always had a vague idea of what it was about. I was quite young when it came out, so I overlooked this particular movie for years. Instead, my childhood equivalent was Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Recently, however, I was most interested to discover that the original version of this film was distributed by Toho! Intrigued, I sought a copy and finally rented the US version a few days ago. The Adventures of Chatran (The Adventures of Milo and Otis) just gives you a fuzzy feeling inside. It is a solid, well-put together movie and easily entertains all ages. There are some flaws, however. For one, the pacing is very uneven in several places. Also, some of the scenes appear somewhat cruel to the animals, and if these scenes were, in fact, perfectly staged without any harm inflicted to the furry stars, it is very difficult to figure out just how the filmmakers could have pulled off some of these stunts humanely. Finally, for the US version at least, there's Dudley Moore. While he does do an alright job narrating the action, the scenes where he actually interprets for the animals seems somewhat out of place. Despite it all, it's far from a widely disliked film, and is still among the most popular movies with which Toho has ever been involved.

Cute little Milo was a mischievous kitten from day one, and was always under the close and watchful eye of his fretting mother. In fact, one day, Milo's mother brought her litter to the dock to see the river, but Milo, curious as he was, ended up getting pulled downstream. His mother was forced to go in after him. Perhaps it would have been too much to hope for that Milo could have learned his lesson from this incident…

While Milo lived on the farm, he befriended an adorable pug-nosed pup named Otis. They became an inseparable pair after a time, and even had a few adventures together. They even kept a watchful eye over a solitary chicken egg, and were ultimately forced to try and convince the hatchling that they weren't his parents. Of course, as time went on, Milo was up to his old tricks again. He led his friend to the dock where the uncomfortable experience of his earlier days appeared to have dissipated from memory. During their survey of the river, Milo hid in a nearby box for a quick hide-and-seek rematch. Alas, he was rushed away by the current. Little did the innocent kitten realize that it would be many months before he would be reunited with his old home. Luckily, it wouldn't be quite so long before he would reunite with his old friend…

Otis sped along the shoreline, and to his horror, he witnessed an ominous bear hungrily examining the wooden vessel. Otis managed to valiantly lead this new peril away from his sailing friend, but Milo was soon left alone in the current. His small box tumbled through rapids, and slid down a waterfall. Day turned to night, and the fearful sights and sounds of the unknown weighed heavily upon the poor kitten's heart. In the morning, Otis came to a barren swamp, where his good friend's "boat" had washed ashore. Frightened away by the cackling birds, Milo had already moved on, leaving the chocking smoke of the awful bog behind him. He managed to procure some food that a fox had hid away and enjoyed a delectable lunch of marsh rat, as Otis' search brought him to the shore. Exploring the rocky beach, the determined puppy failed to notice that the rock on which he was standing had become surrounded by water. High tide had trapped the frightened pup, but luckily, a snobbish sea turtle managed to ferry Otis back ashore. Milo, in the meantime, followed a railroad track to a lovely meadow, where he befriended a beautiful fawn. Otis still kept on his friend's track, but the day was coming to an end... and as Milo climbed a tree to safety, little did he expect that the terrors of the night were soon to unveil themselves.

Squeals for assistance rang from the ground below, for a piglet was trapped and separated from his family as screech owls watched hungrily from their perches above. Milo, who had been under the watchful eye of a friendly owl, rushed to the piglet's assistance. He led the sweet little creature to safety, and the next morning, Milo was off yet again. The mewing kitten came across a babbling brook, where he was involved in a slight confrontation with a greedy raccoon and a fierce bear. Luckily, he made it to relative safety near the shore, but in the process of hunting eggs, a flock of gulls pecked and pushed Milo away from their nests. Milo plummeted off a cliff into the sea below. Drenched, but unharmed, he sought shelter in a shack on the shore, but little did he know that a bear was soon to follow! Fortunately, the kitten outsmarted his foe, and after receiving a blow to the head, the bear ran scared. Milo escaped and climbed yet another tree. In the branches, a slithering snake scared the kitten, and Milo fell from the branches into a shallow pit below. Sadly, the hole was a bit to steep and a bit to deep for Milo to escape. Luckily, an old friend just happened to be walking by…

Otis tossed a rope to Milo and pulled the plucky feline to safety. The joy of their reuniting was wonderful, but soon, the duo came across Joyce, a beautiful cat to whom Milo took an immediate interest. Unfortunately, Otis soon became the fifth wheel in the newly-formed trio, and eventually decided to leave Milo and Joyce to their fun. He would search for another way home…

Time passed after the second separation of Milo and Otis; summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter. The forest was coated with snow, and the animals' journey home was still incomplete. While Milo and Joyce found a cozy home in an old tree trunk, Otis found a mate named Sandra, and they rode out the winter in a strange cave. Both families gave birth to their respective litters, and one day, as Otis was searching for food, he found Milo taking residence in an old barn. Milo sent Otis away with some fish, and they promised to reunite in the spring...

When the cold and snow melted away, Milo's family and Otis' family met each other for the first time. Their kittens and puppies played together, but soon it was time to begin the last leg of their journey home. Milo and Otis led the way, and soon they were looking on at that wonderful place where their lives began...

Due to the lack of actors, and the uniqueness of the plot, it is easy to come to the conclusion that analysis could be a little bare. Well, there is character development here, and it is accomplished to an extent that even puts some human movies to shame. Milo is, of course, the mischievous kitten who gets into trouble, but always manages to use cunning to accomplish his goals. Otis is Milo's fall guy, who is unexpectedly led into adventure. Luckily, his bravery sees him through even the dimmest and most perilous situation. Several other characters have easily distinguishable personalities as well. There's Sandra the proper pup, Milo's concerned mother, the taunting and bully-ish crows, the bubbly and carefree fox, the snobbish sea turtle, the cunning and thieving raccoon, the kind and friendly deer, and the helpful owl. Perhaps it helps that this is a children's movie, because it is very easy to get away with quick and blunt characterization in this format. Even still, there are some animals that don't receive a great deal of development at all. Of the protagonists, we know very little about Joyce, for example. The bears, who are among the most frequent antagonists of the plot, are rather undeveloped too. They are never given any dialogue, and are usually portrayed as mindless eating machines. Of course, the case could be made: why develop the bears, anyway? It would have made the confrontations a little more interesting, at least. Several barnyard animals, the hedgehog, the crustaceans, seagulls, the pigs, and the snake also seem to lack any depth. Of course, it would be foreseeably difficult, especially when dealing so many live action creatures, to accurately stage scenes that would allow more of a peek into the minds of these characters. Nevertheless, in the end, development is a success, even despite the fact that this is a movie where such an aspect is an unusual thing to analyze.

As far as the acting is concerned... wait a minute, there's acting?!? Well, as far as how well the animals were trained for their parts is concerned, this film excels. It rarely resorts to cheap tricks, and you often lose the notion that this had to be slowly and meticulously "choreographed" and edited. Unfortunately, for those of us who have seen the American version of the film, we are denied a good 20 minutes of original footage, and this might easily explain why some of the pacing seems a little uneven. Edits are often abrupt, and it is difficult to judge the passing of time. Of course, one must remember this was a long and challenging endeavor. Production of the film took four years, so if for example, Milo looks like a different cat from scene to scene, you can guess why. The near flawless fruit of the filmmakers labor is still very evident, and the 18 animal trainers involved with the product did a bang up job. Particular scenes of interest include Otis and Milo interacting with the baby chick, the skirmish between Otis and the bear, and Milo's interaction with the bear in the shed. Of course, and this is one of the major objections to the film, certain scenes seem a little cruel to the animals, and it is difficult to judge how genuine certain parts of the movie actually are. The crab clamping onto Milo's snout, Milo tumbling off a waterfall in his box, and Milo falling off a cliff into the ocean are three particular scenes that can make the audience cringe. Despite the fact that there are methods by which the latter two could easily be faked, the crab scene is very realistic and actually painful to watch. Hopefully, it's only a well-crafted illusion. Fortunately, to put people's minds at ease, there is a disclaimer during the credits that reads: the animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost concern for their handling.

Concerning the music, for the American version at least, it is really a mixed bag. There are no outstanding sections of the score. The most memorable music of the unsung track is a sort of the traditional country farm theme. It's very charming, especially in the context of this movie. Much of the music however, is just complimentary background music and nothing more than space filler to accentuate the cuteness of the film. There is one really annoying theme, however. It plays during the Joyce scenes especially, and it is a very obnoxious, mockingly sorrowful string piece. The score could have done without its inclusion. There is also one song that accompanies that track called "Walk Outside", performed by Dan Crow and written by Richard Terrier. It's actually fun, despite the fact that it's specifically geared toward children. Unfortunately, it is an earworm theme, but that's not the bad part. The only words you might remember are "Gonna take a walk outside today...” over and over and over again…

Finally, there's Dudley Moore's narration of the film. While he manages to narrate action well (which isn't really necessary), he does fail in one department. When he tries to mimic the voices of the characters, it is really grating on the nerves. He's only a few inches away from the Bob Saget-style, and while that kind of thing is fun in a limited format, using this kind of style for an entire film just doesn't work. It wouldn't be so bad however, if he wasn't also responsible for the female voices in the plot. Listening to him do Joyce and Sandra's voice is really a strange mix of hilarity and obnoxiousness, and it really makes one long for separate voice actors for each of the characters (or none at all). Nevertheless, Dudley Moore's narration still doesn't detract too much from the movie, and certainly doesn't ruin the overall cuteness of the film.

Warm, fuzzy, and cozy, this is definitely a great feel-good movie. Perhaps I would like it even more had I first seen it when I was younger. It would have had a deep-routed sentimental attachment in this case, much like the one I have for Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Nevertheless, even at 19 years old, watching it for the first time, I still found The Adventures of Chatran (The Adventures of Milo and Otis) very enjoyable. It's one of the few kid's movies that can cater to adults and kids alike. No matter what your age, if you haven't seen it yet, pick up a copy. I doubt you'll regret it.