The classic kid’s tale of a doctor who can speak to animals and fix them hasn’t been adapted in a while since that one 1998 starring Eddie Murphy. Seeing as Hollywood is pretty bankrupt ideas-wise, the folks from Universal Pictures, Team Downey, Roth Films, and Perfect World Pictures saw it fit to retell the tale in a new way set in a period setting.
Instead of the doctor (Robert Downey Jr.) discovering his animal-communication talent, the story starts off with a cool 5-minute animated recap of his history and his once-public mansion clinic run by animals, how he met the love of his life, and how she passed on due to a voyage at sea, making the doctor close his doors and shunning humanity like most internet trolls.
Enter Tommy Stubbins, a kid from a family of hunters who ended up bringing a near-dead squirrel to Doctor Dolittle thanks to the aid of the doctor’s parrot aide-de-camp Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson). Together, they set off on an adventure to help save the Queen of England from a rare disease as Stubbins learns how to talk to animals and attempts to mend Dolittle’s viewpoints concerning people in general.
Or at least, it attempts to do so and make us care.
What I ended up witnessing is a pretty by-the-numbers and thoroughly dull show with notable actors being roped in by its lead actor’s star power and affluence.
There is nary a sign of chemistry between Dolittle and Stubbins, and there’s wasted potential when it comes to the queen’s daughter(?) Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) and Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley).
Nothing’s fleshed out at all, which begs the question: why bother with the queen apart from the convenient plot device that makes the doctor and apprentice duo head out to find the show’s rare MacGuffin?
Heck, most of these animals had some tiny story arc that gets resolved in a hasty and unkempt manner that does not feel rewarding. Remember that injured squirrel? All he’s around for is making quips on the sidelines like the real Craig Robinson these days.
One would assume that thespian Robert Downey Jr., last known for resurrecting a B-list superhero to lofty heights, would be bringing his A-game and save this PG-rated kid’s film. That wouldn’t be wise.
Throughout the 1 hour and 41-minute runtime of this film, not only is he just barely hitting the checkboxes of portraying a quirky antisocial animal-loving genius, but we can’t tell what kind of accent he’s portraying when he’s John Dolittle.
I want to say Welsh, but it’s a hybrid of all three main United Kingdom accents, morphing into a terrible impression Tony Stark would make if he were mocking the English. In case that wasn’t a deleted scene in one of the many Marvel movies out there, now we have that in PG-rated movie form.
In Need Of A Check-Up
The climax of Dolittle features the titular character performing an enema on a dragon and, after the procedure, finding a bagpipe. I think that pretty much sums up the quality and tone of this all-ages film.
Throw this one at your kids if they want some mindless entertainment filled with scenes of ho-hum CGI animals being cute and fluffy, as well as voiced by that one guy from WWE and that one Indian from Silicon Valley. Because I’m sure the incredibly young kids get the celebrity voice actors and their significance in pop culture.
Sane movie viewers need not apply. Or care for that matter.
Seriously, how did THE Marion Cotillard get roped into voicing a CGI fox here?