“Dolittle” stars Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Sheen. Released on January 17, 2020, the film is about a doctor who journeys with his animal friends to search for a cure that can save Queen Victoria.
The film is directed by Stephen Gaghan, who is known for directing “Abandon”, “Syriana”, and “Gold”. It is based on the character, Doctor Dolittle, created by Hugh Lofting. There are lots of people in this world that are more into animals than they are with other people. Many of them are dog lovers, cat lovers, parrot lovers, duck lovers, even people who are elephant lovers. This character, in particular, is a lover of every type of animal, ranging from a gorilla to a giant polar bear, and here’s the best part, he can communicate with them. After officially retiring from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. is going from saving the world in an iron suit to embarking on a fantasy adventure with a bunch of animals in his first debut outside of his role in the massive money-making franchise. This film serves as a reboot to the film series that center around Hugh Lofting’s character, which included the 1967 adaptation and the 1998 Eddie Murphy film that took a more modern approach to the source material. This latest adaptation looks to be a bit more faithful to the source material in terms of the time period, but is that enough to make it as watchable as the Eddie Murphy version?
Taking place during the Victorian era, the film tells the tale of Dr. John Dolittle (Downey Jr.), an eccentric and famous doctor who has the ability to talk to animals. He hides himself and his animal friends away from the public and becomes a hermit in his own manor after his wife passed away. He is then forced to spring into action when Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is suffering from a mysterious illness. With the help of his self-appointed apprentice, Tommy Stubbins (Collett), and his furry companions, Dolittle must travel across the ocean to a mystical island in order to find a cure while staying one step ahead of his adversaries, including the pirate king Rassouli (Banderas) and his rival, Blair Müdfly (Sheen). Inspired by Lofting’s second novel, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the story combines the Victorian-like settings with some fantasy elements to provide a kid-friendly and magical reintroduction to the book series that’s been around for 100 years. On paper, it sounded like a pretty good idea since we have a new generation of kids who are unfamiliar with the books and Eddie Murphy’s take on the character. On the screen, however, that’s where this voyage meets its quick and unfortunate end. It’s easy for me to admit that the film is a harmless and simplistic adventure for children and their parents, but just because it has both of these qualities, it doesn’t automatically make it good. Specific adults who want a fresh and exciting version of Doctor Dolittle may be disappointed with the fact that it’s actually a dull and messy experience that has its heart in the right place, but struggles to emphasize it when it comes to the plot. The film has Dolittle struggling to let go of his past and regain his love for the people, and it has Tommy Stubbins attempting to help the animals instead of hunting them like his uncle, played by Ralph Ineson. The messages it provided were definitely important for the kids to learn. Unfortunately, the film lacked the heavy inspiration and a stronger script to make those lessons feel more urgent. There were plenty of moments in the film that felt rushed and pointless, and there were some supporting characters that range from mediocre to forgettable, especially the antagonist Blair Müdfly. That character sucks…a lot. He didn’t pose that much of a threat to the main characters and Sheen’s performance was a bit too over-the-top at times. If you replace him with some more dangerous obstacles for Dolittle and his friends, it would’ve made the film a bit more engaging than what we got now. Then there’s the humor, which is just as stale as the story itself. There were a couple of jokes that gave me some decent chuckles, but other than that, the humor is pretty forgettable as it relied on taking shortcuts to please the children, like fart jokes. As for the positives, I thought the cast did OK with their performances, even though their charismas weren’t exactly top-notch, most notably Robert Downey Jr. as the title character. He’s got the charm, but his performance wasn’t entirely inspiring and his accent can be best described as off-putting. Then you have the all-star cast for the animals, like Emma Thompson as a wise macaw, Rami Malek as an anxious gorilla, John Cena as a lovable polar bear, and Tom Holland as a dog who wears glasses. Honestly, they were slightly better than the live-action cast. I just wish that they had better material for them to work with. The film also provided some decent visuals despite not being on par with the other big-budget films with high-quality effects. All of the animals are created with CGI, which was reasonable because nowadays PETA is very high-strung on how filmmakers handle animals in their films. They’re not entirely bad, but they can come off as unrealistic during specific sequences. I feel like the film is obviously showing off what they can do with a $175 million budget rather than using the visuals to enhance its storytelling. The film’s all “look at all of the cute computer-generated animals that we made with a lot of money” and no “look at what we can do with the film’s quality with a lot of money”.
Overall, this latest interpretation of Doctor Dolittle has some heart and charm in its vessel, but it rarely scratched the surface of those two qualities. “Dolittle” is a CGI-bloated and bland voyage that’s harmless for its younger audiences, but surprisingly underwhelming for everyone else. Despite a tolerable voice cast for the animals and some decent visual effects, the film wasn’t able to satisfy all of its patients due to its weak script, forgettable characters, and its dry humor. You’re better off watching the Eddie Murphy version instead.