Arguably one of the most successful fusions of comedy and drama that Robin Williams has ever put his name on, 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire balances side-splitting set pieces, moments of bracingly human emotion and best of all, holds up 15 years after its initial release because of its refreshingly adult perspective on the painful, polarizing topic of divorce.
Adapted from Anne Fine's "Alias Madam Doubtfire" by screenwriters Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, Williams stars as doting parent Daniel Hillard, who has a bit of a rambunctious streak, which causes friction with his buttoned-down wife Miranda (Sally Field). Tension builds, Miranda asks for a divorce and Daniel is shattered, particularly when Miranda soon picks up with old flame Stuart Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan). He aches to spend time with his three children -- Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Chris (Matthew Lawrence) and Natalie (Mara Wilson) -- but a judge rules that he can only visit them once a week. Daniel hits upon the idea of transforming himself into a kindly Scottish female nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire. Predictably, chaos ensues, but the filmmakers do display restraint in taking care never to lose sight of the characters and some actual resemblance to reality.
Williams anchors the film with his funny, full-blooded performance, both as Daniel Hillard and Mrs. Doubtfire; many of his unscripted asides provide some of the movie's indelible moments. The casting is great all the way through, however -- from Field to Brosnan, on down to the kids and even the great Harvey Fierstein as "Uncle Jack." Columbus demonstrates a sure hand behind the camera (he was just coming off the blockbuster Home Alone) and the whole enterprise stays gloriously aloft for a little more than two hours. Even rewatching the film for this review, I found myself laughing all over again with very little dead space. It's a well-built, intelligent comedy that doesn't make you wish for your time back. In other words, a Hollywood relic.
Lastly, we come to the slightly tangled history of this particular DVD release. The original Mrs. Doubtfire DVD, a non-anamorphic disc with a Chris Columbus commentary, hit shelves in late 2003. This "Behind-the-Seams" edition was originally set to see the light of day in May 2007 and for some unknown reason, Fox pulled it from the schedule, only to reintroduce the exact same special edition this year, as an apparent tie-in to Horton Hears a Who. Some speculated that Fox was adding additional bonus material, but unfortunately, the copy I purchased before the '07 version was recalled is identical to this version. There's more on the supplements below.The DVD
Ignore the mislabeled case -- this is an anamorphic release. Presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer of its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Mrs. Doubtfire looks mostly crisp, clean and free from major defects, although there are a few instances of softness and the sense that perhaps Fox didn't shell out to produce a new transfer for this beloved film. Puzzling, particularly with a Blu-ray version of the film being released concurrently.The Audio:
The funny comes fast and furious, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track can handle it all, including the Aerosmith and James Brown tracks. No distortion or drop-out and a very smooth soundfield. Optional Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks are on board, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.The Extras:
The two-disc set features the film, of course, on the first disc, along with 18 deleted/extended scenes (presented in anamorphic widescreen) playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 32 minutes, four seconds. Four alternate scenes (presented in fullscreen) are playable separately or all together for an aggregate of four minutes, 29 seconds. The Columbus commentary from the first DVD didn't make the jump, for reasons unknown.
The second disc, which splits the supplements up underneath five different headings -- "Production Office," "Animation Studio," "Make-Up Department," "Stage A" and "Publicity Department -- houses the meat of the bonus features. First up is a pair of featurettes -- the 26 minute, 35 second vintage behind-the-scenes doc "From Man to Mrs. The Evolution of 'Mrs. Doubtfire'" (presented in fullscreen) and presented in multiple parts, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 26 minutes, 35 seconds. The newly filmed "Aging Gracefully: A Look Back at 'Mrs. Doubtfire'" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) runs 13 minutes, 41 seconds and features interviews with Columbus and Williams. A photo gallery completes the "Production Office" section.
"Animation Studio" contains the four minute, 17 second featurette "A Conversation with Animator Chuck Jones (presented in fullscreen), along with the original pencil test (two minutes, 25 seconds; fullscreen) for the animated bits in the finished film, along with the full, uncut final animation sequence only glimpsed briefly in the finished film (five minutes, 14 seconds; fullscreen) and an alternate final animation sequence (five minutes, 51 seconds; fullscreen).
"Make-Up Department" has the four minute, 10 second featurette "Make-Up Application with Ve Neill" (presented in fullscreen), along with a photo gallery and 17 minutes, 53 seconds of test footage (presented in fullscreen) playable separately or all together. "Stage A" boasts a gold mine -- "The Improvisation of Mrs. Doubtfire" (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) -- 36 minutes, 53 seconds of Williams' riffing on various scenes. It's playable all together or separately, by scene.
Finally, "Publicity Department" is home to the five minute, 28 second original 1993 featurette (presented in fullscreen), a vintage promo piece "Meet Mrs. Doubtfire" (presented in fullscreen) that runs for five minutes, 21 seconds; three theatrical trailers, two TV spots, a theatrical poster and publicity photo gallery, with a one minute, 25 second Easter egg -- "Meet Mrs. Featherbottom," an amusing clip from the second season of the dearly departed "Arrested Development" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) -- completing the set.Final Thoughts:
Arguably one of the most successful fusions of comedy and drama that Robin Williams has ever put his name on, 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire balances side-splitting set pieces, moments of bracingly human emotion and best of all, holds up 15 years after its initial release because of its refreshingly adult perspective on the painful, polarizing topic of divorce. The extras are worth sifting through for fans, but where's the commentary from Columbus (or Williams, for that matter)? Highly recommended, but barely.