As far as I know, there have been a few versions of “Doctor Dolittle,” the story of a man who can talk to animals. There was one film version with Rex Harrison from 1967, which bombed at the box office, but still became a cult classic. The “Doctor Dolittle” version I grew up with was the Eddie Murphy comedy from 1998. He was hilarious with his flexible and verbal gimmicks, and credit also went to the brilliant voice work from the likes of Norm MacDonald, Chris Rock, Albert Brooks, and John Leguizamo.
And now, we have a new version of it, named “Dolittle,” or “Doo-Doo-Little,” which allows Robert Downey Jr. to use his English accent for the first time since “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows,” as John Dolittle. Offering similar vibes, the actor usually seems to have a fun time playing these types of famous British characters without hamming things up. All I can say, at this point, it’s refreshing to acknowledge he’s back in a non-Iron Man role, but it’s a shame that it’s a terrible role.
He seems to be going through the motions, and the movie, itself, ends up being a downer, because of how it’s short in its narrative and relies on too many talking animals and cliches to save the show.
Like the 1998 film, the animals’ voices are provided by an all-star cast. Some of them work, while others just blurt out ransom words for appeal. But this time, unfortunately, CGI effects have to be provided, and it’s not fun. Why can’t Hollywood go back to the basics like real animals? They worked before.
You have Emma Thompson as a macaw, who serves as Dolittle’s voice of reason; Rami Malek as a fearful gorilla; Ralph Fiennes as a revengeful tiger; Tom Holland as a glasses-wearing dog; Craig Robinson as a conspiracy theorist squirrel; Kumail Nanjiani as a cynical ostrich; John Cena as his polar bear friend; Octavia Spencer as a duck who mistakes a piece of celery for a leek; Jason Mantzoukas as a dragonfly with blue cartoon eyes; Frances de la Tour as a dragon with stomach pains; Selena Gomez as a giraffe; and Marion Cotillard as her fox friend.
The story involves Dolittle opening up an animal sanctuary, and then living in seclusion after the death of his love. He’s called back into reality when Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is being poisoned by the man who plans to seize her throne (Jim Broadbent), and requires a sacred piece of fruit to live. He takes his furry friends and his new young apprentice (Harry Collett) on his trek, while dealing with a rival doctor (Michael Sheen) and a pirate king (Antonio Banderas).
The misses I’m referring to involve the rival doctor being a desperate wannabe, a scene when the dragon has to pass gas, the animal effects being generic, and how the story tends to be formulaic and a little short. We didn’t need these typical cliches to help speed things along, because they only degrade the whole movie in the process.
When “Dolittle” came to a close, I started to wonder if there could have been more or less to the script and characters. Given the circumstances, there could have been less.
The Eddie Murphy “Doctor Dolittle” will always be my favorite version, whereas this version is a step-down. Not even Downey, Jr. can tame any of these animals.