Imagine if we could walk with animals, talk with the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals and they could communicate back to us. Unfortunately, the new adaptation of DOLITTLE won’t make you want to talk, grunt, squeak, or squawk with the animals. I’ll go into more details on why in a little bit, but first, here’s what the movie is all about: Seven years after his wife’s death, John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), famed doctor and veterinarian in Victorian England, became a hermit hiding away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of animals for company. But when Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island of Sumatra in search of a cure from Eden fruit, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and encounters wondrous creatures.
Doctor Dolittle is based on a series of popular children’s books from 1920 to 1952. In 1968, the first movie adaptation was released starring Rex Harrison in the title role. Unfortunately, it was a critical and financial bomb but was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Later on, it became a family favorite. Then in 1998, Eddie Murphy took on the title role in Dr. Dolittle. This version took place in the present-day and was successful enough that it spawned two sequels (a theatrical sequel and a direct-to-video third). Now, in 2020, we get DOLITTLE (is it just me, or is this title getting shorter and shorter? I mean, I’m sure the next version will just be called “D. Do”.). This new version was supposed to be released in Spring 2019 but due to the poor test screening, the film went into reshoots that were supervised by writers Jonathan Liebesman & Chris McKay with Liebesman directing the reshoots as well.
Throughout my entire viewing experience, it became obvious that this film had production problems because the film is all over the place. Sure, the animal effects are really good, but I wish I could say that in regards to the human performers. This is Robert Downey Jr’s first role post-Marvel and I really hope that this is not the career path he’ll choose. He’s a fantastic actor but his skills were wasted in DOLITTLE. If I could say one good thing about this movie it’s Michael Sheen who plays the villain Dr. Blair Müdfly. He definitely chews the scenery in this and looks like the only actor that’s having a fun time being in the movie. The all-star animal cast did a fine job with their voices but nothing to write home about. There’s a lot of humor in this that only the kids in the audience laughed at during my screening so yeah, the jokes were rather unfunny and painful. Also, when you have Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) at the helm, you’d expect some quality. I was hopeful DOLITTLE wasn’t going to be as bad as I anticipated, but sadly it was. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst movie of the year but it’s just not good.
To end this review, DOLITTLE will be a movie that parents will put on for their kids when parents need quiet time or during long drives on vacation. In the end, DOLITTLE did little to entertain me. DOLITTLE arrives in theaters January 17, 2020.