‘Dolittle’ movie review: A vapid outing that squanders its talented actors and voice cast

Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Dolittle’

Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Dolittle’  

Robert Downey Jr. cannot recreate the magic of Eddie Murphy in this reboot of the popular franchise

The best thing about being an armed forces child was the library (okay, one of the best things). Long summer days were spent browsing the library and stumbling upon books that you would never find anywhere else. It was in camp libraries that I read about Jennings and his bestie Darbishire, the adventures of the fat owl of the remove, Billy Bunter, and tales of Dr Dolittle and his jolly menagerie of animals. I was fascinated by the pushmi-pullyu, a two-headed gazelle/unicorn.

Dr Dolittle started his print life in illustrated letters written by Hugh Lofting to his children from the trenches during World War I as the reality of war was too horrible to write about. The simple illustrations and the idea of a doctor who could talk to animals was irresistible and vacations sped by in the company of Polynesia the parrot, Gub-Gub the pig, Jip the dog and of course pushmi-pullyu who ate with one mouth while talking with the other, thus not being rude.

And so we come to the good doctor’s latest screen outing, Dolittle, with Iron Man Robert Downey Jr., in the lead. Eddie Murphy played the doctor last time around in Dr Dolittle (1998) and the sequel, Dr Dolittle 2 in 2001.

  • Director: Stephen Gaghan
  • Cast: Robert Downey Jr. , Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent
  • Voice cast: Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard
  • Storyline: An eccentric doctor who can speak to animals has to undertake a perilous voyage to save the queen
  • Runtime: 102 minutes

Despite the traumatic production history of the 2020 version with extensive reshoots, rewrites and test audience hating the movie, Dolittle is not completely terrible. It is not great, but it is harmless — you definitely don’t want to poke your eyes out or bite your arm while watching it.

Returning to its Victorian roots, Dolittle tells the story of a brilliant doctor/veterinarian who can talk to animals. When Queen Victoria becomes seriously sick, Dolittle has to stop being a recluse, get a haircut and go on a perilous journey to find a cure on a hidden island.

The movie is lovely-looking and all the CGI animals do proper animal things — even though sometimes their paws do not seem to be touching the floor so much as skimming it. Dolittle is a star-studded extravaganza starting with RDJ and his weird accent. There is also Antonio Banderas who is hilarious as the pirate king, Michael Sheen as the villainous Dr. Blair Müdfly (don’t forget the umlaut) and Jim Broadbent as Lord Thomas Badgley, another bad guy.

The voice actors are equally big names from Emma Thompson (Polynesia), Rami Malek (Chee-Chee the gorilla), John Cena (Yoshi the polar bear who looks like Iorek from His Dark Materials) and Octavia Spencer (Dab-Dab the duck) to Tom Holland (Jip), Ralph Fiennes (Barry the tiger) Selena Gomez (Betsy the giraffe) and Marion Cotillard (Tutu the fox).

Dolittle could have done a little more with all the talent at its disposal to become a happy cinematic vacation, instead of the vapid movie it is.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:03:27 PM |

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