Dolittle Review

Let’s talk about Dolittle.

Yes, there is another Doctor Dolittle film. It’s had a bizarre journey let’s be honest. The first adaptation of the early 20th century books was the musical Doctor Dolittle in the late 1960s and it doesn’t have a great reputation. The making of the film was a nightmare and caused the budget to rise to a stonking $17Million. Yes, inflation is a bugger. It never made it’s money back and it’s now in the history books as one of the biggest flops of all time. Then in the late 1990s, it was rebooted as a children’s comedy with Eddie Murphy as the lead. And it was a hit. It was a popular movie that spawned a franchise that is fondly remembered by the kids who watched it. I’m one of them.

So maybe it’s not that odd that the franchise is getting a reboot considering every other franchise known to man is also getting a reboot due to Hollywood’s lack of imagination. This time, they are going back to being true to the books. It’s set in the Victorian era, it’s all about exploring and there are no Eddie Murphy gags in sight. Instead, we have Robert Downey Jr as the man who can talk to animals as he goes on a quest to find the medicine to the Queen’s deadly illness with animals and young boy in tow.

The movie kicks off with a really nice animation that explains the backstory of Doctor Dolittle and how he got to this place where he has isolated himself off from the rest of humanity. When it then switches to a young boy who loves animals, you think it’s going to develop him for a bit before making Dolittle’s house and all the weird animals within a massive reveal a little later on. But no, it gets there within the next ten minutes. This is an indicator of one of the problems the film has with its pacing. Things happen way too quickly. There’s another instance where Dolittle and company are on Caribbean-esque island where he is a fugitive. Instead of a cool skulking around the island and then breaking into the castle scene, that is all done offscreen in ten seconds with a little bit of narration on top, the first bit of narration since the opening narration. I get the feeling when it became obvious this was going to flop that a rescue job was done in the edit to cut it down to a more palatable runtime but all this has done is make things feel rushed and take away from important character development.

It’s also way too weird at times. The movie is odd and that’s ok at times as the only laughs it gets is often due to the weird nature of what’s going on screen. But sometimes it is just embarrassing for everyone involved. In the world of the film, when Doctor Dolittle speaks to the animals, he speaks in their language. As in, he will talk like a gorilla. This thankfully only happens a few times before it goes to the traditional animals being voice acted thing but it goes on for long enough that Robert Downey Jr loses all of his dignity and credibility. It’s not a complete film wrecker but it’s close to one because it is hard to take anything else in the film seriously when you see some of the things that Downey does when he is first introduced.

I have mentioned that the film sometimes gets a laugh due to its oddness. That is true, it does that sometimes. And sometimes is the key word. More of the time, the humour falls flat on its arse. That’s because it is so low-rent and poor. It’s a collection of crude fart humour and cheap pun gags. And yes, those type of jokes can be done well but they aren’t here because they feel thrown in to appeal to a younger audience. It’s a weird remnant of the Eddie Murphy films but it has combined them with the epicness of the original musical and it doesn’t mix right. The movie degrades the massive adventure it wants by making the polar bear do weird contemporary jokes. Even though this is set in the Victorian era I did expect one of the animals to floss at one point and that shouldn’t have cropped into my mind.

So, is there anything worthy of this film? Well the cuts do mean the film at least goes quickly and as I’ve said a few times, the oddness can work in its favour at times because it leads to creative imagery and stuff you won’t see elsewhere. It, in general, is a fantastic looking movie as well. This film is drop-dead gorgeous and one of the main things which draws you through is wondering what lovely looking thing is going to be on screen next. But because the script is inane and often embarrassing, it may be best left on mute.

Some critics labelled Dolittle as a Cats level disaster and that is definitely overstating things. This film is certainly bad but it doesn’t fill my nightmares like that one did, it just makes me cringe thinking that Robert Downey Jr decided his first post-Avengers film was going to be this one. It tried to be an epic but the script ended up trying to ape the comedy of the more recent Dolittle film and doing that badly. Maybe one day we’ll get a Dolittle film that isn’t dull as rocks like the original or weird and embarrassing like this one. But maybe it’s just a concept that doesn’t work on film as well as it should.

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A Guy Who Talks About Movies

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.