No Country For Dead Dogs

milo-and-otis

“No Country For Dead Dogs”

by The Late Mitchell Warren (who was also snuffed)

“There’s nothing more depressing in film than a dead dog. Perhaps one of the most painful scenes in the Best Picture winner No Country For Old Men was when the dogs got the fatal shot, first anonymously by Anton Chigurh & Friends and then by Llewelyn Moss. It is unpleasant to see dogs murdered on screen, though we seem to have no problem seeing humans get dismembered and disemboweled all in good fun. Therefore one of the persistent urban legends to discuss, and one that SNOPES still hasn’t bothered investigating, is that of the 1986 children’s film The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

Urban legend has it that The Adventures of Milo and Otis, starring some adorable animals and the annoying voice of the late Dudley Moore, could have wasted as many as 30 cats and dogs off-screen, while presenting only the most convincing video evidence that cats, dogs, bears, beavers, seagulls and crabs all get along fabulously. Of course, we have no way of knowing this based only on video evidence, as the film cut is always compiled from hours of footage that has usually been filmed according to convenience, not sequential story telling. Therefore my first thought while watching The Adventures of Milo and Otis all these years later was, given the fact that the final cut shows actual footage of cats falling down waterfalls and getting wet, dogs getting pinched in the nose by crabs and bears laying the smackdown on some smaller animals. If we take the movie’s word for it, we believe that all animals have a general playful spirit. Truth be told, in order for any bear to be safely videotaped by a camera crew while it frolicked with cats and dogs, it would have to have been a domesticated creature. To me, the question is not so much was The Adventures of Milo and Otis a glorified nature film falsely presented as a children’s film, because it’s obvious these animals were specially trained and civilized enough to play together in relative piece. However, what remains unsettling is just how far filmmakers could have gone to get proper reaction shots. Consider the facts before making your final call on this Brokeback Mountain of cuddly animal films.

FACT #1: There is no official disclaimer stating, “No animals were injured in the making of this film.” Instead Columbia Studios released a statement attempting to mollify the suspicions of others while admitting nothing, in reaction to questions raised by The Toronto Star and other newspapers. “All the scenes…may be momentarily unsettling for young viewers, but 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.'”

FACT #2: There were no visual effects used in The Adventures of Milo and Otis at least not the type of visual effects that we take for granted in movies like Babe. Therefore any footage you see of a cat falling into a waterfall or swimming for its life is legitimate. The only possibility in terms of visual effects is that a dummy animal was used during some of the more potentially dangerous scenes. All we know officially about the film is that were 400,000 feet of footage shot over a period of four years for the making of The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

FACT #3: The film was made in Japan and originally released as Koneko Monogatari: The Adventures of Chatran. Therefore, whatever our American preferences regarding animal cruelty are or were in 1986, Japan was not in the least bit concerned. However, there were rumors of Japan’s own animal rights groups protesting the film, at least according to TheCulturalGutter.com website, which quotes The UK Economist Magazine, which implied there is no way a cat could survive some of the “stunts” seen on screen. Allegedly, The Economist also stated according to reports coming out of Japan that a third of the 30 Milos used did not survive the film.

Unfortunately, beyond direct quotations, much of what we read is hearsay. There are believable reports that suggest director-writer Masanori Hata was a zoologist and the owner of an animal farm. (This suggests good news, and we may figure surely a zoologist would not subject animals to cruelty) It is also a fact that the original Japanese film was 90 minutes long and was re-cut to 75 minutes for the American release. Allegedly, the original film had some violent scenes and was geared towards a more adult audience. However, no hard proof of this could be found–and unfortunately, I do not read Japanese and cannot investigate all the Koneko Monogatari references online.

TheCulturalGutter.com’s published article implied that the American Humane Society stated that as many as 27 cats were killed in the making of the movie. However, contrary to that allegation the American Humane Society chooses to say nothing about The Adventures of Milo and Otis, even removing it totally from its “Reviews” section (http://www.ahafilm.info/movies/movieratings.phtml?letter=&page=4) where other animal-starring films (and foreign films) are actually labeled as “unknown” for their safety practices. This is quite possibly due to the fact that much of The Adventures of Milo and Otis snuff speculation is just that: speculation.

I, like the American Humane Society, refrain from forming an official stance because of a lack of evidence. However, I would say that at best, some animals were probably injured in the making of the movie, as the disclaimer certainly implies and film evidence shows. (A crab pinching a dog’s nose has got to hurt!) My final thought is that Koneko Monogatari, even if it did feature the accidental death of animals, is no guiltier of murder than any “snuff” footage on the Discovery Channel where we see animals mauled and torn apart all in the name of education. All that director Masanori Hata did was literally reinforce the notion that Hitchcock once taught, that suggests all actors are cattle, and staged some scenes for the glorification of the camera. (Hey, the best of your reality TV shows do it!) I would blame Columbia Studios, if anyone, for their insistence that anything internationally popular can be dumbed down for an American audience.

Whether the fear written in Milo and Otis’ face is real or just brilliantly acted remains a SNOPE to be investigated. (Which I can assure they were recently alerted to investigate) All you can truly say is that Milo’s meowing performance was far more convincing than Andy Samberg and company in Hot Rod. I think the only real injustice is that Milo and Otis were severely underpaid for their method acting.

6 Comments on “No Country For Dead Dogs”

  1. Look at the bright side. It’s still better than cats and dogs killing us for their own movies, I guess.

  2. I remember watching this with a group of young humans in the early 90’s. They loved it. I too was slightly horrified, particularly at the waterfall scene.

    I’m not sure you can compare it to Discovery Channel. (although maybe you can, I haven’t watched it since they showed actual REAL things…nowadays they tend toward ‘moonshiners’ and ‘Amish Mafias) However, it’s not a nature film. It’s no Mutual of Omaha’ Wild Kingdom. (shoot, again on second-adult review ‘Jim’ did seem to prod the hell out of everything while Marlin Perkins watched.) Anyhoo, the scenes in Milo and Otis are so far fetched they don’t seem like they can even be trained to do that. Although I agree about Andy Samburg…in everything he’s ever done, this pug and tabby have him beat.

  3. Actually this film was a documentary exactly like a nature film. The director owns a nature reserve and wanted to show what life was like on his island. The reason it took four years was not because that’s how long it took to make the move but just how long it took to study and watch the animals. When they were done filming they took the scenes they liked and wanted and made a story of it instead of a normal documentary. 27 cats where used but thats because it spanned of 4 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if cats died but it is no different then a animal dying from hunger or a cow stomping a farm cat to death. The scene of the cliff was real but the cliff it only about ten feet if you look at the waves they are not moving till around a foot above water. this makes the cliff seem a lot higher. If anyone lives on a farm the know the dangers that farm animals can get into. The average life span of a farm cat is 8 years while a house cat is around 15. Though it is hard to believe in some of these scenes were not acted out like the sea turtle but animals do some interesting things in the wild. From what I gather and understand about how he runs his island he tries hard to keep it a natural as possible with little human interference.

    Milo & Otis was filmed in the mid 1980’s and American Humane did not have jusrisdiction to monitor the animals in this movie as it was filmed in Japan. In the past two decades since the release of Milo & Otis, American Humane has made great strides in monitoring animals in film overseas and protecting their safety through the gold standard of our American Humane Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. We currently act as a voice for the animals on over 1,000 productions each year and are able to post many of our animal-centric movie reviews on our website at http://www.americanhumane.org. Back in 1989, there was no website or public access internet, however American Humane did release a statement at that time referring to Milo & Otis that I will paste for you here:

    At the time of this movies’ release, American Humane released the following statement:

    THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS

    The Adventures of Milo and Otis is a Japanese production released last year in the U.S. It is an epic fairytale about the friendship between an inquisitive cat and a dog. The only characters are animals. According to the production company, they all belonged to Hata, a zoologist and one of Japan’s most noted authors of children’s books. According to information released on the film, Hata started developing what he calls “Mutsugoro’s Animal Kingdom” on his private island where he has 300 animals including cats, dogs, horses, foxes, deer, raccoons, bears, and bison. He wanted to make a film about his animals, so he hired a crew to live on his island. They spent four years, and shot 400,000 feet of film, then spliced it and made it into a picture. Hata was also the writer and director of the film. Dudley Moore did the voice-over for the animals in the American version.

    The main character is a cat (played by 27 different cats). The picture shows no animals being injured or harmed. However, before it was released in the United States, AHA heard rumors that some of the cats had died during the filming. We have attempted to investigate this through our contacts in Europe who normally have information on movies throughout the world. They had also heard the rumor, but were unable to verify it as being true. We have tried through humane people in Japan, and through another Japanese producers to determine if these rumors are true but everything has led to a dead end.

    The picture was released in Japan in 1986. The following Japanese Humane Societies allowed their names to be used in connection with the picture:

    Japan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

    Japan Animal Welfare Society

    Japan Animal Protection & Administration Society

    Japan Veterinarian Medicine Associations

    Japan Pets Association

    We will continue to seek information and will notify you if we find something that substantiates the rumors. In the meantime, if you should obtain some concrete evidence of abuse, we would appreciate your advising us. Thank you.

  4. The whole issue does very much stink. Unless you read Japanese, you are limited in the amount of information you can evaluate, as several articles were published from a few domestic animal-welfare groups during filming.

    There are ambiguous issues related to the American Humane Society’s role in supervising the film. Apparently, there was no one actually on set during filming to monitor associated practices. Additionally, there were patent issues regarding the much now used phrase: “No animal was harmed in the making of this film”, or “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”.

    A private “zoologist” is not an infallible title or endorsement either. Many countries around the world, but particularly the USA, have lax legislation on the types and numbers of exotic or otherwise animals able to be kept in captivity by a private citizen. People love keeping extensive private menageries, sometimes to the detriment of the animals involved…

  5. I wonder if there’s anyone else left alive who prefers to appreciate this movie for what it is, instead of obsessing over whether or not cruelty was committed behind the scenes.

    Even if there was, does that make this movie any less enjoyable? I grew up watching it repeatedly in the 90’s, so of course I’m biased, but take away stories about the alleged behind-the-scenes drama and nevertheless, what we are left with is a beautifully-photographed story about a dog and cat maturing in the wild and discovering wonderous things — with some truly witty narration by Dudley Moore.

    I mean c’mon: in regards to the same people who complain about the (alleged) animal cruelty in this movie, what would they say about the slaughtered cow in Apocalypse Now? The squid that gets eaten alive in Oldboy? The answer, of course, is that pet-friendly people wouldn’t be caught dead watching those movies. And because Milo and Otis was geared towards kids, of course it’s a target for their ridicule while those other, strictly-for-adults films don’t receive nearly the same amount of scorn. But all three movies have one thing in common: They’re great movies.

    I don’t particularly like it when animals are harmed during the makings of movies, but realistically, do animals have the same rights as humans? No. This movie was made in the late 80’s. All of the animals that were in the movie are dead by now. At least they’ve been memorialized in the movie so that if you ever want to go back and revisit them, you can. That’s the whole point of movies in general.

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