The other night, "Pretty Woman" was the only thing on network television, but I didn't want to watch it. It's not that it's a bad movie, mind you, it's simply that it's been shown so much and is so widely known at this point that, even years later, it's really begun to lose its replay value. "Mrs. Doubtfire", which has been shown a seemingly infinite amount of times (it was a popular Thanksgiving and Christmas network TV movie for a while there) over the years, also doesn't seem as fresh to me now as it once did. Both movies are entertaining (and geez, quite different), but years later I've realized that neither of these movies, while so big in their time, quite reach the level of being "timeless".
As many are already surely familiar, the story focuses on voiceover artist Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams), a father who's heartbroken to find that his wife, Miranda (Sally Field) wants a divorce after she comes home to find that he's thrown a party that has wrecked the house. Apparently because he's always the one to have fun and she's always the villain who enforces the rules, she has finally had enough. Watching the movie again after all these years, one wonders what these two characters ever saw in each other, as they seem as if they're polar opposites and it's difficult to believe that was ever not the case.
Wanting to still be close to his beloved kids, he goes to his brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein), who manages to come up with a disguise. As he's aware that Miranda is in the midst of looking for a housekeeper, Daniel shows up as old Scottish widow Mrs. Doubtfire. Meanwhile, Miranda has fallen for an old friend from school (Pierce Brosnan), and Daniel tries to plan various ways to shoo the new guy away from behind his disguise.
While it's easy to pick up on some issues looking at the movie after a few years (no idea how the Field and Williams characters ever got along - she's a real ice queen in the film), but at least I do still feel the movie does walk the line between comedy and drama reasonably well. The movie treats the subject of divorce with respect and care and the comedy - while a little corny and slapsticky (although Williams does a nice job giving a slight edge to some of his lines as Doubtfire) - works well enough, although even at its best it is a little sitcom-ish.
Williams has taken a lot of critical hits over the past several years, but to watch "Mrs. Doubtfire" is to be reminded of when Williams seemed a little more natural and not as forced or rehearsed. As I've said in other reviews, Williams is best when he's simply unleashed to riff on whatever comes in front of his path. The best material Robin Williams has ever had to perform seems to just come naturally in the moment, and it's just brilliant. One can still see this on the actor's appearances on the Today Show, where the actor's unpredictable improv remains screamingly funny. The kids - Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara Wilson - offer enjoyable supporting efforts.
I still feel "Mrs. Doubtfire" doesn't hold up quite as well years after its original release, but there are certainly elements to appreciate, such as the spirited performance from Williams and the film's ability to blend comedy and drama moderately well.
VIDEO: Fox presents "Mrs. Doubtfire" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is an improvement, as the prior release was non-anamorphic. Still, despite the anamorphic presentation, there were definitely a few notable concerns with this transfer. One of the main concerns was noticable edge enhancement, which appeared in several scenes. Another problem - and one that was a little surprising - was the presence of a number of small scratches and other minor incidents of wear on the elements used. The movie is 15 years old, but I'm rather surprised that it looks at this point like it could use a little bit of a clean-up. No pixelation was spotted, and colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other flaws. This was an acceptable presentation, but hopefully the film will get a little bit of TLC in spots before being released again down the road.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offers the bare basics, as while the music does get some minor reinforcement from the side speakers, the surrounds are otherwise absent from the proceedings. Audio quality is passable, as dialogue sounded clean and well-recorded, as did music and effects. The film's soundtrack offered what one might expect from a 15-year-old comedy - no more, no less.
EXTRAS: Unfortunately, the commentary from director Chris Columbus hasn't been carried over here. However, there's quite a few other extras to go through, some new and some carried over from the prior release.
Here's an instance where a disc provides some deleted scenes that actually could have found their way into the movie. I think the movie is a little long as is, but there are scenes here that are absolutely hilarious, as Williams(as Mrs. Doubtfire) and the family's neighbor have a few hilarious confrontations while discussing what she should do about her garden. There's also a few additional tries at nanny "personalities" before Williams's character comes up with Mrs. Doubtfire. These are some fairly sizable scenes and they're quite fun to see. There's a lot of comedy here and it's unfortunate that it had to be cut from the film. Some of the scenes here seem to be a little more "mean spirited" humor than the rest of the film, and that's maybe why they were cut. Overall, we get 19 deleted/extended scenes and 4 alternate scenes.
"Interview with Chuck Jones" is a fairly short interview with the legendary animator that talks about the original animated sequence that starts off the film. We also get the entire final animation sequence, pencil tests and alternate backgrounds.
"Aging Gracefully" is a 14-minute documentary that has Columbus and Williams chatting about the movie years later. While the piece starts out a little fluffy, they do get to some good tidbits, such as a discussion of how Williams was allowed to improv, and the editing process that created multiple versions of the picture - including some where the raw improv jokes would have gotten the picture a different rating. The two also discuss the fact that they've been approached for a sequel, and just how they'd actually go about that if it came to be.
Speaking of improv, "The Improvisation of Mrs. Doubtfire" is a section that allows viewers to check out different improv takes of Williams for seven scenes. There's some pretty amusing takes throughout this section, and it's worth watching. Some of these should have been used in the final scene.
"Make-up Test" is a really interesting series of short segments that take sort of a "behind-the-scenes" look at not only how the actual character was built, but how the make-up and clothes were chosen. We get test segments with Williams alone, as well tests of Mrs. Doubtfire working with the other actors.
"Make-up Application" is a second featurette on the make-up, again with Williams talking about the process of building the character, then we actually see the process of people putting make-up and all of the latex and other material on Williams. There's a very interesting commentary by the make-up artist during this sequence that takes us through what is being applied and why and also giving us information about how long it takes to put this all together.
"From Man to Mrs.: The Evolution of Mrs. Doubtfire" is a 5-part (short parts, unfortunately) documentary pieced together largely from archive footage. The featurette is fairly standard promotional fare, although there are some good tidbits offered up about the make-up work, script development and casting, among other topics. Fans will want to take a look at this featurette once, but I don't think it'll offer much replay value.
"Mrs. Featherbottom" is a hidden easter egg, which offers a parody of "Doubtfire" from an "Arrested Development" episode. We also get the original 1993 EPK featurette, 3 trailers, a photo gallery, make-up still gallery, "Meet Mrs. Doubtfire" featurette, 2 TV spots, poster gallery (um, 2 posters - how about some international posters?) and publicity photo gallery.
Additionally, there is a Bonus Money coupon for (up to $7.50) for a movie ticket for "Horton Hears a Who". Given that this DVD edition is $14.99 at most places, the $7.50 movie ticket makes this is a pretty good deal for those interested in seeing "Horton".
Final Thoughts: I still feel "Mrs. Doubtfire" doesn't hold up quite as well years after its original release, but there are certainly elements to appreciate, such as the spirited performance from Williams and the film's ability to blend comedy and drama reasonably well. This new DVD edition offers somewhat improved video quality and similar audio. It drops one substantial extra, but adds a few other good ones (as well as the movie ticket for those interested in "Horton".) Recommended.
The Film B