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Mrs. Doubtfire: Behind-the-Seams Edition

I don’t have children, so I don’t know what it’s like to be separated from any, whether it is via divorce or a hectic work schedule. I am sure, however, that if ever, God forbid, I got divorced, I would not dress in drag to see them. First of all, I dressed up as a woman once in high school and it was not very pleasant – the heels were impossible, the color of the wig was all wrong, and the five o’clock shadow was not very womanly. I was not a good looking woman. Second, why would I sign up for a job in my former house, cleaning things that I probably never cleaned in the first place just to see my kids? Wouldn’t it be easier to see them on my designated days? I’ll still love them just the same. There are very few family comedies nowadays that can hit on all cylinders and provide entertainment to everyone watching. They are often either too corny, ill-conceived, childish and too stupid for adults to care, or they miss the mark completely and no one cares at all – not even the kids (and they’ll watch anything – have you ever seen the Teletubbies?). Mrs. Doubtfire is one of those movies that does hit on all cylinders. Not only does it deal with children in the right way, it deals with adults and serious family issues with humor and sensitivity rarely seen in film today – and Mrs. Doubtfire was only made 15 years ago. It’s a film that has a little of something for everyone.

Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a struggling actor who can’t seem to hold a job, but is a free-spirited and loving father of three children – Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Christopher (Matthew Lawrence), and Natalie (Mara Wilson) – whom he can’t get enough of. Unfortunately, his wife, Miranda (Sally Field), is fed up with him and files for divorce, separating him from the three people he holds dearest to his heart with only one visit allowed per week. So, the creative, talented, and hysterical father devises a way he can see his children every single day, and not miss a day of their lives: create the ultimate housekeeper/nanny that Miranda would be crazy to let go of, Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire.

The heart of Mrs. Doubtfire lies in everything Robin Williams does on screen, both as Daniel Hillard and Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s one of his typical manic roles, but it’s done with the right amount of control on his improvisations. You can tell a lot of heart went into the writing of the film, even if the script tends to become a little too Brady Bunch, just by watching the performances – all the actors care about the people they’re portraying. Williams is allowed to roam free and test the waters as a woman and take it as far as he can, but never go over the edge into absurdity, like Williams has a tendency to do. And, because he is controlled a little bit, the performance he gives is a memorable one – and not just for the laughs.

One thing is certain about the main character of Daniel Hillard: he loves his three children equally. When they're threatened to be taken away from him during a bitter divorce proceeding, you can see this man's life begin to spiral. The love is in the tears of the man’s eyes. So, just to be close to his children, he learns new skills (cleaning, cooking), and dresses in a fat suit and latex mask made by his gay brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein). Maybe it's not a normal situation, and possibly very far-fetched, but it works – and it’s hysterical. Watching Daniel work out of uncomfortable situations when trying to go between a life as a middle-aged man and an elderly woman is quite perfect for him – the right amount of insanity, humor, and comedic timing. But, as crazy as some of the events may seem – and as funny as they are – they’re all life-altering experiences you take with Hillard – and Williams portrays each event with ease and sophistication. Everything Daniel’s stiff and organized wife despises about him – the things that forced them to grow apart – become distant memories as he transforms his life into something constant and stable. He matures as an adult and a parent, and he does it because he faces the possibility of losing what he loves the most. The movie has a strong foundation with an even stronger message that reaches everyone of every age.

While Williams is obviously the centerpiece of Mrs. Doubtfire, he works with a perfect supporting cast, including Field, Pierce Brosnan, the kids, and Robert Prosky. Field comes off a little too stiff, bitchy and rigid, but that is mostly the character. The script, at times, seems more like an extended version of the corniest episode of Full House, but the movie still plays perfectly, even though it runs a little more than two hours long. The kids are adorable – not great actors, but adorable (just want to pinch Mara Wilson’s cheeks when she speaks with that lisp). Even the music fits the mood of the film perfectly. Director Chris Columbus shows skill in everything he selected, from the cast to the make-up artists, just like he did with Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, and the Harry Potter flicks. He puts together a great family getaway. There is nothing not to enjoy about this film. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll wish that you had a Mrs. Doubtfire in your home – well, minus the whole, “She’s got a penis thing,” which could creep the kids out. The second disc of your Mrs. Doubtfire: Behind-the-Seams edition is a bonus disc that is broken up into five different sections – Production Office, Animation Studio, Make-Up Department, Stage A, and Publicity Department. Each of those sections are broken down further into more subsections for one of the more extensive, impressive, and funny bonus packages I have ever seen. So, rather than give you some clever quip right now about how weird it really would be to watch a woman urinate while standing up, I’m just going to get to the features and not waste any time.

In the Production Office section, there are two main features - “From Man to Mrs.: The Evolution of Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Aging Gracefully: A Look Back at Mrs. Doubtfire” – and a behind the scenes photo gallery, which isn’t all the exciting, but it’s there. “From Man to Mrs.” is your basic behind-the-concept documentary, where cast members and production people are interviewed to talk about the filming of the movie, its concept, the casting and how funny it is. If you don’t want to watch the entire feature, you can skip around to one of the five chapters that interest you. “Aging Gracefully” is a great sit-down interview with Columbus and Williams. They talk about how 15 years ago they thought they’d be embarrassed to look back on this film, despite the fact that they had fun making it and all that jazz. Yet when they took a look at their work all these years later, they loved it and believe their work truly stands the test of time. I couldn’t agree with them more. Mrs. Doubtfire has definitely aged gracefully.

Animation Studio is one section I don’t really understand. I know the opening sequence of the film is animated, and it has the signature of legendary animator Chuck Jones on it. However, it makes up about five minutes of a 125 minute film – it’s just a little snippet of Daniel Hillard’s life as a struggling actor and a way for Williams to do more voices. It hardly deserves an entire section, considering it doesn’t really capture the essence of Mrs. Doubtfire – it’s really just an expensive piece of character development. Granted, it’s a cute sequence, it doesn’t need to be explained in four mini-documentaries. “A Conversation with Legendary Animator Chuck Jones” is exactly what it is – it’s a conversation with Chuck Jones. Surprise! The “Original Pencil Test”, “Final Animation Sequence,” and “Final Animation Sequence with Alternate Backgrounds” are all very repetitive. It shows how the cartoon was developed from a black and white pencil drawing to the colorful 5 minute sequence that opened the film, to the same opening sequence with a different backdrop. It is entertaining to watch, and mildly interesting, but still not worth an entire section of the DVD.

The next section is the Make-Up Department, which is broken down into three more chapters, one of which is a photo gallery of everything that is discussed in the feature. The most interesting portion of this section is titled, “Make-Up Application with Ve Neill,” who is the key makeup artist for Mrs. Doubtfire. The most interesting part of this documentary (which was shot back in the 90s), besides how they came up with the look and all that goes into creating this persona, is the fact that Robin Williams sat through this makeup process for 3-4.5 hours per day. That’s a lot of time to be sitting one spot having all of this done to you, day in and day out. It’s rather impressive, too. Not just that he managed to sit there and be patient enough to have all of the makeup applied, but that it looked the same each day, and it looked like a real woman. The transformation is amazing, and this makeup job rivals that of just about any science fiction flick, just because of the realism. “Make-Up Tests” is a series of five scenes, some with just Robin Williams and others with Field and the kids, trying out a series of different looks for Mrs. Doubtfire – most look similar to what they use in the film, only some look a bit older and not as well preserved. I am really glad they went with the one they did, some of the others were really scary.

Stage A is a feature entitled, “The Improvisation of Mrs. Doubtfire.” This is a great outtake-like feature – one of the best I’ve ever seen on any DVD, largely because it’s very funny. While filming Mrs. Doubtfire, director Chris Columbus encouraged cast members to improvise as a way to heighten the comedy in the film. This feature allows you to view the improvisational abilities of mainly Williams in various scenes, such as “A Work in Progress,” “The Death of Mrs. Doubtfire,” and, my personal favorite, “Another Applicant,” which is a series of outtakes of Williams applying for the housekeeping jobs in his signature voices. Each scene has a few different outtakes – up to five or six clips per scene. It is rather extensive and extremely funny to watch.

The final section is called the Publicity Department, which has everything you might remember from 1993. It includes the original featurette for the film and a very funny documentary of sorts called “Meet Mrs. Doubtfire,” where Robin Williams interviews Mrs. Doubtfire in between a series of clips from the movie. It’s actually quite funny, and it’s even funnier to see Williams, who looks so much younger and hairier, if that’s possible. The section also includes theatrical trailers, two TV spots, theatrical posters, and a publicity photo gallery.

All-in-all, this is one of the most comprehensive packages you will ever find on DVD. By the time you’re through, you might have Mrs. Doubtfire overload, or begin to think that you’re her – or dressing like her, which would be awkward, again, if you’re a guy, or in front of your kids.