film & game reviews, the retro way.
Robert Downey Jr.
Emma Thompson (voice)
Rami Malek (voice)
A reboot of 20th Century Fox's 1967 Rex Harrison-starring Doctor Dolittle classic, Dolittle stars Robert Downey Jr. as the titular eccentric doctor who has the unique ability to speak to, and understand, animals.
Rather than taking a more modern route, similar to the late 90's/early 00's Eddie Murphy movies, Dolittle is set in the mid-19th century. Wisely, the film picks up later in the doctor's life, giving us the now familiar backstory in a brief animated sequence right at the beginning. The latter is so appealing, by the way, that one wishes the entire film had been made in this 2D animated style rather than the usual live-action/CG hybrid you see in many kids' movies nowadays.
We meet John Dolittle, who is now living as a recluse in his own animal sanctuary, sporting a big beard and never stepping foot outside. This is all due to his wife having gone missing at sea some time before. When young boy Tommy (Harry Collett) breaks into the sanctuary with an injured squirrel to seek the doctor's help and a young girl (Carmel Laniado) ~somehow~ walks in to bring him a message from the Queen herself, Dolittle is thrown kicking and screaming back into the world he purposely left behind and a brand new adventure. The ever-reliable Robert Downey Jr. is effortlessly and appropriately quirky here, though his Scottish accent never convinces and yo-yo's between a bad British accent and a bad Scrooge McDuck impression.
Dolittle's journey involves traveling by sea to an island not on any map to find a mythical fruit that might prove to be the cure to the poison that is slowly but surely killing the Queen of England. He is joined by Tommy and a selection of various animals, every one of them voiced by a recognizable actor or actress and seemingly capable of anything a human being can do. Which begs the question: can Dolittle actually speak to animals or has he genetically modified all of them to be super smart somehow? But that's a question for another time and this is a fantasy flick for young children so let's give this movie a break on that, for now.
Disney clearly spent a lot on this one and it shows. The voice cast is big (Downey Jr. himself charges a hefty fee these days), everything from trees to fruits and every single animal is CG and the exotic locations are big and impressive. From its disappointing opening weekend, it looks like Dolittle might lose around $100M at the box-office and, considering the budget was nearly twice that and the reviews have been mostly brutal, this seems very likely. But spending a lot on this project isn't this film's biggest problem, or at least not in terms of how good or bad it is. There was definitely room out there for a more old-fashioned Doctor Dolittle remake, a grand Pirates Of The Caribbean or Sinbad The Sailor-style adventure with sea battles, magic and whatnot but Dolittle both attempts this and is far too lazy (or incompetent) to actually attempt it, if that makes sense.
While, on paper, Dolittle sounds promising in that it's got an epic journey at its centre, fancy settings and lots of potentially fun characters, in practice it comes off as a polished yet still quite poor Alvin And The Chipmunks sequel. With a bizarrely short running time of an hour and 41 minutes, Dolittle appears to have everything it needed to be the film it wanted to be (and we wanted it to be) but not the savvy of how to get there so the result is a bungled mess that builds up to what is possibly the most baffling climax in any movie for many years. One could easily imagine an epic adventure film á la Baron Munchausen in which Dolittle is given some hope which motivates him to go on a journey to find his long lost love, meeting some colorful characters along the way, fighting some bad guys and perhaps even saving the Queen's life and solving a murder mystery by the end.
This sounds like this movie but it isn't this movie.
The adventure element is rushed and uneven throughout. Big action sequences begin but are quickly interrupted by a swift cut to the next scene while more minor scenes like the tiger jail fight or even the Queen meeting Dolittle scene early on take their sweet time. This is one of the worst edited big-budget films since Michael Bay's pre-Bumblebee Transformers franchise and, while its third act is something to behold, it's not so much a third act as it is akin to a kid packing up all his Monopoly pieces by shoving everything into a bag very quickly and throwing it into the sea. This is a film that takes its time to get started yet seemingly also runs out of time immediately which makes it feel very distracted and unfocused, to say the least.
The writing, which gives each of the many animals in the film obnoxious one-liners including a Rush Hour reference, of all things, is possibly the one thing that might be worse than the editing. To say the script needed another draft would be very generous as a complete overhaul feels much more appropriate. The ending may be Dolittle's big what-the-hell moment in that respect but one wonders if the reason the film is so short and scattered is that equally strange elements from the script were shot and then scrapped, leaving little for the editor to work with. I talk about said ending in greater detail in a recent blog post but suffice it to say that maybe, just maybe, having your big adventure's climax come in halfway through the second act and literally be Robert Downey Jr., covered in vomit, shoving a leek into a dragon's anus as it farts and poops all over him, maybe wasn't the best idea.
I could go on and on with this one, but to keep things short and sweet, I'll just say that this is an often perplexing, sometimes annoying, always awkward, mostly charmless and fascinatingly inept flop that is such a disaster, I have to recommend it to fans of bad movies because its accidental madness is very entertaining indeed. This is one Dolittle movie you won't forget in a hurry.