There are many people who won’t watch the seminal splatter flick Cannibal Holocaust because it contains the actual slaughter of animals (which were eaten by the crew), yet they have no problem sitting down and enjoying The Adventures of Milo & Otis, which is alleged to contain the wholesale obliteration of dozens of kittens. 

You might think that The Adventures of Milo & Otis, a story about a kitten and a pug having adventures in the wilderness, is one of those great American kid movies. You’d be really wrong, since the film is actually a re-edit of a Japanese movie called Koneko Monogetari: The Adventures of Chatran. Filmed over four years and culled from 400,000 feet of footage, Chatran was seen as a little too Japanese, and the Oscar winning Jim Clark (he won for editing The Killing Fields) took the 70 hours of extra footage and re-arranged it. Clark felt that the original film, which wasn’t really a kid movie, was too artsy. Some of the animal on animal violence was toned down, and so was some of the scariest stuff. A scene where the cat (renamed Milo for America) was thrown into the ocean was kept, but what was cut was a lengthy bit where the soaked, terrified animal tried to climb out of the surf and up a cliff.

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There were animal cruelty allegations in Japan upon the original film’s release. It was claimed that dozens of cats were killed during the production. When Milo & Otis opened in Australia, local animal rights groups called for it to be banned. Jacqui Kent of Animal Liberation Queensland said that she had been told up to 20 cats had been killed, while at least one cat had its paw broken to make the animal unsteady on its feet. 


The American Humane Society looked into the claims, but came up empty. The group put its stamp on the movie despite having no representatives on the set; the film’s closing credits say ‘The animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being,’ but makes no claims about the animals being unhurt. And it’s easy to see why – the film itself has animals blatantly and obviously being hurt. A cat is bit on the face by a snake; crabs and birds attack a cat; a pug and a baby bear battle; a cat is hurled into rough seas as well as sent down rapids in a cardboard box that is constantly in danger of tipping. These animals were put into these situations by human beings – the snake bite isn’t the natural result of a curious kitten meeting a snake in the garden. Someone put those animals in proximity, and a camera man sat and watched it all unfold. 


And even if the animals were, miraculously, unhurt, they’re obviously scared shitless. There’s simply no way to throw a cat off a cliff into the ocean without at least freaking it the fuck out. If you did that to your pet cat, filmed it and put it on YouTube, there’s a good chance you’d find police knocking on your door to ask you about some animal cruelty allegations. It’s simply unacceptable to place animals in dangerous or scary situations just for entertainment.


In the end no one has ever been able to prove the claims of mass animal deaths one way or another. The Japanese film industry has a less than shining record when it comes to animal abuse, but that doesn’t mean that kittens and puppies were murdered on the set of Chatran. There were definitely dozens of kittens and puppies used to play the leads, but that would have to be the case due to the production taking four years (another problem is the admission that animals were specifically bred to resemble the original leading cats and dogs; such selective breeding is destructive and genetically unwise). The lack of a specific ‘No animal was harmed’ disclaimer is troubling – the language used feels legalistic and filled with loopholes – but the boilerplate you see today at the end of all movies featuring animals didn’t become the standard for years after Milo & Otis’ release. It is bothersome that the American Humane Society put their seal on the film without having an agent present, and one assumes the lingering doubts and concerns about the film have led them to be more strict.


So the next time you’re watching The Adventure of Milo & Otis, think about the traumas and horrors visited upon the tiny animals in the movie. Consider whether that’s something you want to share with your kids.


For more, read Robin Bougie’s excellent wrap up at The Cultural Gutter.