AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Mrs. Doubtfire
Director: Chris Columbus (Dir)
Release Date:   1993
Duration (in mins):  120
Print this page
Display Movie Detail

Cast: Robin Williams  (Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire)
  Sally Field  (Miranda Hillard)
  Pierce Brosnan  (Stu)

Summary: In San Francisco, frequently unemployed actor Daniel Hillard has a job dubbing animated characters in a children’s cartoon. When, onscreen, a villainous cartoon cat offers a cigarette to a little green parakeet called Pudgie the Parrot, Daniel goes off script, improvising dialogue that warns children about the hazards of smoking. The cartoon’s director, a smoker, is infuriated, but Daniel insists that it is unethical to promote smoking to children. Unable to convince the director of his viewpoint, Daniel quits. He then surprises his children, Lydia, Chris, and Natalie, by picking them up from school. Because today is Chris’ twelfth birthday, Daniel throws a boisterous party with hip-hop music, dozens of children, and a hired petting zoo. His wife Miranda, a co-owner in a successful interior design firm, is the family’s breadwinner and used to Daniel’s whimsical antics. However, when she arrives home from work with a couple of small gifts in hand, she finds the house in shambles, children screaming, trash everywhere, and a goat eating her begonias. Inside, she sees her husband and children dancing on the dining room table, while other children swing from a chandelier in the next room, and a pony eats the birthday cake. Angry, Miranda unplugs the stereo and orders the guests out of the house. Miranda and Daniel scream at each other while cleaning up, and during the fighting, Miranda realizes she wants a divorce. Assuming Miranda’s anger will subside, Daniel moves in with his gay brother, Frank, and his partner Jack, both makeup artists. Later, during divorce proceedings, Miranda is given sole custody of the children because Daniel has no place to live and no employment. Though he has visitation rights every Saturday, Daniel makes a final, desperate plea to the judge, saying he can’t live without his children, and that he’s never been away from them for more than a day. The judge agrees to reassess the case, giving Daniel three months to get a job, keep it, and create a suitable home for his children. The judge assigns a court liaison, Mrs. Sellner, to oversee his progress. Unimpressed with Daniel’s ability to “do voices” and his lack of other marketable skills, Mrs. Sellner finds him a job in the shipping department at a television studio. During his breaks Daniel is able to watch the production of a long-running children’s program. Thinking it boring, Daniel asks a man standing beside him what “idiot” would keep such a show on the air for twenty-five years. The man introduces himself as the “idiot,” Jonathan Lundy, owner and general manager of the station. Luckily for Daniel, he agrees and wants to cancel the show. Meanwhile, Miranda receives a commission from her college sweetheart, Stuart Dunmeyer, to redecorate his mansion. Because of her new project, Miranda decides to hire a nanny to take care of the kids. When she shows Daniel the classified ad she’s placing in the newspaper, Daniel surreptitiously changes the telephone numbers, ensuring that no one will be able to apply for the position. Using his ability to “do voices,” Daniel calls Miranda several times posing as various dysfunctional, undesirable nannies. He then calls in the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire, a prim and proper older English woman who claims to have worked the past fifteen years for the Smythe Family of Elbourne, England. Unaware that Mrs. Doubtfire is really Daniel, Miranda hires “her,” which creates a problem for Daniel because “she” is still a “he.” Daniel enlists the aid of Frank and Jack, who, using wigs, makeup and latex masks, transform him into a woman. Although Mrs. Doubtfire impresses Miranda, the children are skeptical about having a nanny and miss their father. Claiming to run a tight ship, Mrs. Doubtfire makes the children turn off the television to do their homework and punishes them with house chores when they don’t obey, but ultimately wins them over individually by reading stories with Natalie, playing soccer with Chris, and helping Lydia with her homework. After a few household mishaps, Daniel learns to care for his home and his children. Because the children are doing better in school and her house is clean when she comes home, Miranda is happier and spends more time with Stu and the children. When Mrs. Doubtfire first meets Stu, she is very passive aggressive and suggests that the large size of his car is a compensation for “smaller genitals.” One evening, after excusing herself for “a call of nature,” Mrs. Doubtfire fails to lock the bathroom door, and Chris accidentally sees Mrs. Doubtfire standing to relieve him/herself. Chris runs, screaming, into Lydia’s room, barely able to exclaim that Mrs. Doubtfire is “half man and half woman.” When Mrs. Doubtfire comes into the room, Lydia and Chris threaten her with a tennis racket, but the nanny reveals that she is really their dad and that “Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack” created the disguise. He then swears them to secrecy. Back at work, Daniel returns to the set of the dinosaur show during a break and improvises a skit, not realizing that Lundy is listening in. Impressed, Lundy invites Daniel to dinner to discuss the potential of a new show for children that is neither boring nor dumbed-down. The meeting is set for Bridges Restaurant, Friday, 7 o’clock sharp, but Mrs. Doubtfire learns that Stu is taking the family to celebrate Miranda’s birthday at the same restaurant on Friday at 7 and Miranda insists that Mrs. Doubtfire come along. That evening, with the Hillard family on one side of the restaurant, and Lundy on the other, Daniel goes back and forth from the ladies’ room, changing in and out of his disguise. With a glass of wine at one table, and several scotches at the other, Daniel becomes intoxicated, until at last, he unintentionally sits down with Lundy dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire. Improvising, Daniel says that his concept for a new show features a “hip old granny” who can teach and entertain children. Mr. Lundy loves the idea. Also during the evening, Mrs. Doubtfire learns that Stu is allergic to pepper, and sneaks into the kitchen to powder his dish with crushed cayenne. After his first bite, Stu begins choking. Mrs. Doubtfire performs the Heimlich maneuver that saves his life, but accidentally rips off her disguise, revealing that she is really Daniel. When the custody trial is revisited, the judge reprimands Daniel for his stunt, saying that he refuses to further subject the three innocent children to his peculiar and harmful behavior. He allows Daniel only supervised visitation on Saturdays. Miranda advertises for a new nanny, but when none work out, the family laments the loss of “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Just then, on the television, Mrs. Doubtfire calls out, “Hello, my dears!” Miranda and the children see that Mrs. Doubtfire lives on. Realizing the children were happier when Mrs. Doubtfire was a part of their lives, Miranda invites Daniel to care for the kids again every day after school. Daniel also continues to appear as Mrs. Doubtfire on his television show. In one episode, Daniel, as Mrs. Doubtfire, explains to her young viewers that there all kinds of families, and whether they live in the same house or not, love binds them together.  

Distribution Company: Twentieth Century Fox
Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox
Blue Wolf Productions
Director: Chris Columbus (Dir)
  Joan Bradshaw (Unit prod mgr)
  Geoff Hansen (1st asst dir)
  Cherylanne Martin (2d asst dir)
  Stephen Lee Davis (2d 2d asst dir)
  Carol Bawer (Addl 2d asst dir)
Producer: Marsha Garces Williams (Prod)
  Robin Williams (Prod)
  Mark Radcliffe (Prod)
  Paula DuPré (Assoc prod)
  Matthew Rushton (Exec prod)
  Joan Bradshaw (Co-prod)
Writer: Randi Mayem Singer (Scr)
  Leslie Dixon (Scr)

Subject Major: Actors and actresses
  Child custody
  Family relationships
  Female impersonation
Subject Minor: Birthdays
  Impersonation and imposture
  Interior decorators
  Romantic rivalry
  Television producers
  Television programs

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.