Robin Williams' comedy to me has been one where the hyperactive goofiness works well if you're younger and a little more impressionable, but as you grow older and your comedic tastes get more, um, refined, the bloom wears a little more off the rose as you go. I loved watching him in Mork and Mindy when it was first broadcast, thank you very much, but as I discovered other outlets, notably the comedy records of George Carlin, suddenly Robin Williams wasn't so funny anymore. Ironically, Williams' comedy was closer to his idol Jonathan Winters than anything he might have been trying to do. To put it more bluntly, Robin Williams is the comedic equivalent of Eddie Van Halen. Both guys were white-hot outstanding in their early days, when they were all coked up, and then when they got sober (which is to their credit), they were rendered irrelevant.
Mrs. Doubtfire seemed to be the last thrashings of said comedic abilities to me. Based on the Anne Fine novel and directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone), Williams plays Daniel, a voiceover artist who tends to act the irresponsible parent in the face of Miranda (Sally Field, Places in the Heart), despite the open adorations of their three kids. Miranda seeks a divorce from Daniel and custody of the kids, which shatters Daniel because he just "wants to see my kids." Miranda is a successful designer and her time is taken away from the kids, so she decides to hire a housekeeper for the afternoons, which gives Daniel an opening. With the help of Daniel's brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein, Mulan), an accomplished makeup artist, Daniel dons prosthetics and a fat suit to take on Euphegenia Doubtfire, an older British woman who snaps the kids into shape and, as a woman, seems to be a better parent than he was as himself.
Cue the laughter! But not before some moments of manipulation and borderline uneasiness transpire, many of which seem to be glossed over. Daniel makes changes to Miranda's "Help Wanted" ad for the housekeeper without her permission, Daniel serves as social commentator on a cartoon he's providing a voice to, Daniel brings farm animals to the family house while later yelling at Miranda for not being in touch with her own kids, almost like she's part of the problem in all this. It almost seems like whatever commentary that Williams or his character wants to infuse is a little bit forced. Even when a new beau is introduced into Miranda's life, the guy (played by James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan) is actually nice and well-meaning, even in the candid scenes, so Daniel's antics and verbal barbs seem mean spirited. You know, enough with the hollow preaching and get back with the stupid ad-libbed jokes already, it's not like a guy wearing a dress hasn't been done before, it's what you do with it that counts, and while the requisite cross-dressing jokes are there, they appear to be leaned on to great effect, almost as if it's the only joke that carries the film.
What's sad for me about the film is that when I first saw it, years ago, I actually got a few laughs from the film at the time. I watched the whole film the other day, and I rarely cracked a smile. It's like when you take the time to try and enjoy someone who everyone else in the room seems to enjoy and even when you give the time, it just doesn't do anything for you. That's not to say there should be a wholesale dismissal of the film, there are some saving graces in the film, many of the scenes with Williams and Fierstein aren't too bad and are fun and give Williams a chance to work outside of the script a little while still recognizing what's to be accomplished in the script.
What's perversely ironic about all of this is that the film was produced by Williams' wife Marsha. This was Williams' second wife, whom he married after leaving his first. Marsha was the nanny for Williams' children. And now that he's divorcing Marsha, I'm guessing that there's some sort of ironic joke that could be made for Mrs. Doubtfire, but I'm not that cruel. I guess I'll revert back to Dick Cheney and Viagra jokes like the star of this underwhelming picture seems to do now.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents Mrs. Doubtfire in 2.40:1 widescreen and uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec. In looking at the back of the case, Fox has apparently included the transfer rate down to the tenths/Mbps, which is nice for an even granular look. And with this disc, this is hardly reference quality. The tight shots don't possess a lot of detail and the slightly broader stage shots don't seem to include much depth either. However, on the very wide exterior shots, there is a multidimensional appearance to the Hillard home, and flesh tones do maintain a realistic tinge to them. So without seeing either standard definition release, this is probably safe to upgrade if you were so inclined.
The DTS HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 surround track that Mrs. Doubtfire sports is OK, albeit a little bit on the vanilla side. Dialogue stays in the center channel, and the usual songs about men dressing as women sound clear and pretty dynamic. On the rare occasion, there is an instance or two where there is a directional effect (like when Miranda hangs the phone up during the nanny interviews) or when a subwoofer light goes on that make you remember that this is a lossless audio track. But that's about it, as the soundtrack is serviceable without really standing out. There's also a English 5.1 surround track and 2.0 surround tracks in French and Spanish to choose from.
There's actually not a bad bunch of extra material here, most of which appears to be ported over from the recent special edition release earlier in 2008 (the Chris Columbus commentary track from the first release has been cast aside). Things start with the "Cutting Room" section, which has almost two dozen deleted, extended and alternate sequences (36:35) with a whole host of information. Aside from an extended post-dinner argument with Miranda and Daniel, and the introduction of Miranda's neighbor Gloria (Polly Holliday, Alice) into the mix, and Daniel's "funny" prank on her, most everything else is redundant and not at all necessary. Moving onto the "Production Office" section, things start with "From Man to Mrs.: The Evolution of Mrs. Doubtfire" (26:37), which examines how Williams found the book and how Columbus got to the project. The prosthetics and makeup to transform Williams is obviously shown, and the cast shares their thoughts on working with one another, while additional takes and sequences are interspersed from time to time. A stills gallery is next, followed by "Aging Gracefully: A Look Back at Mrs. Doubtfire" (13:42), which is a retrospective look at the film with Columbus and Williams filmed some years later although I'm not entirely sure when. The "Animation Studio" section kicks off with an interview from legendary animator Chuck Jones (4:17), who was responsible for the illustrations in the beginning. The rest of the section includes separate test footage (2:26), a final animation sequence (5:14) and a final animation sequence with alternate storyboards (5:51), all with voiceover from Williams. The "Make Up Department" section kicks off with a look at the makeup and application process from artist Ve Neill (4:10), where she examines what she did to transform Williams with a voiceover on some dated footage of him. Test footage (17:54) of Williams and the stars follows. "Stage A" is basically another name for Williams' improv footage and alternate takes (36:55), much of which is self-explanatory. In the "Publicity Department," you've got a dated EPK for the film (5:29) and a split-screen interview with Williams and Mrs. Doubtfire (5:22), followed by three trailers, two TV spots and stills of the movie posters and publicity photos. Trailers for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Devil Wears Prada, Night at the Museum, Eragon, Ice Age 2 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen complete the disc.
Well if you're a fairly young reader to DVD Talk, I'm going to tell you that Mrs. Doubtfire is a fun romp with a load of supplemental material and a workmanlike technical presentation. If you're a hardcore collector of movies and have the old edition on disc, then you're going to lose the commentary but pick up some other extras, most of which would appear to be fairly bland. But the Blu-ray presentation looks nice, so you can double-dip at your discretion. For all audiences, I'd give this a strong look with an eye towards renting instead of buying.