Following this film, Hollywood should consider retiring the Doctor Dolittle series. What started as a children books in 1920s has turned into a very profitable property with the Eddie Murphy films the late 90s. Frankly speaking, I didn’t think this franchise would resurface, especially with Robert Downey Jr. at helm, considering the last couple of films in the series did not garner much critical or financial success, with their focus put on John Dolittle’s daughter.
Dolittle (2020) is a fantasy adventure film directed by Stephen Gaghan, with a screenplay by Gaghan, Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, and a story by Thomas Shepherd. The film is based on the character Doctor Dolittle created by Hugh Lofting, primarily influenced by Dolittle’s character in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Robert Downey Jr. stars as the title character alongside Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen, comprising the three main live action characters. The remainder of the cast includes voice acting by Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard, each playing various animated animals.
Needless to say, the film has a star-studded cast, especially with the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the lead. This film marks his first feature release since Avengers: Endgame and plays a pivotal role in the start of 2020 films. But unfortunately, we are left with a lack luster, mediocre film that elicits a “meh” response. I wasn’t expecting much, but figured Robert Downey Jr. would at least put on an enjoyable performance, but, like the film, his left more to be desired. The accent he employs makes it difficult to understand what he is saying and, as a result, I found myself just glossing over majority of his dialogue bits. This critique came as a shock considering his performance in the new Sherlock films. Apart from the questionable accent, he doesn’t add much to the role, unlike Eddie Murphy who made it his own. The rest of the cast, mainly the voice cast, does reasonably well with what they’re given.
The premise of the story follows John Dolittle dealing with the loss of his wife seven years prior to when the film begins. As a result, the famed doctor and veterinarian in Victorian England becomes a hermit, hiding himself 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 in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and encounters wondrous creatures.
Despite an interesting premise that we have yet to see on the big screen, the script boils down to unfunny jokes and exhibition, tied with clumsy, disjointed editing that honestly felt as if scenes were removed and instead replaced with narration bits. This has the audience question exactly what is happening and how did they get there.
It’s being well-reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Dolittle underwent 21 days of reshoots following poor test screenings, as it became clear from the first cuts that the comedy elements of the film were not coming together as well as the producers had hoped. But the final product still did not receive much laughter in the packed theater in which I viewed the film.
Dolittle is strictly for kids as it lacks any nuance to keep adults entertained. In the end, the theatre was only filled with children’s laughter at funny animals saying funny things rather any concrete jokes. In a nutshell, only go to watch this film if: (1) you are taking your children, or (2) you want to waste an hour and a half of your time.
Rating – 4/10