When DOLITTLE (2020) opened back in January of last year to negative reviews, I stayed away.
I really had no interest in seeing it anyway, other than having really enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr. over the previous decade, mostly with his recurring role as Tony Stark/Ironman in the various Marvel superhero movies, but also in other films like the rebooted SHERLOCK HOLMES movies. So, I was curious to see Downey as Dr. Dolittle, but not curious enough to run out and see this one.
However, this past weekend, I was in the mood for something light and upbeat, and so finally I decided to check this one out, nearly a year after its initial release.
I could have waited two years.
Yup, DOLITTLE was as bad as folks said.
Now, I realize this is a kids movie aimed mostly at younger kids, and it’s supposed to be a family friendly comical adventure. The problem is, while it may be family friendly, in terms of being appropriate for the younger kiddos, it kinda forgot about the older folks in the room, the adults. There’s not much here that is all that relevant or fun for anyone over the age of 10.
Let’s start with the script by director Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on the character created by Hugh Lofting. And that character is Dr. John Dolittle, a man who possesses the magical ability to talk to the animals. Yep, he understands what they say, and they undertand what he says. Dolittle has been portrayed by Rex Harrison in the musical DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967) and by Eddie Murphy in a pair of DR. DOLITTLE comedies in the late 90s early 2000s.
Here, Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is grieving over the death of his wife, an adventurer who was lost at sea, and so he has withdrawn from society and has become a hermit, interacting only with his animals on his enormous estate. But when young Queen Victoria falls deathly ill, she calls on Dolittle to help her. And with the assistance of a boy named Tommy (Harry Collett) Dolittle and his animals take to the high seas to find both his wife’s lost journal and a healing tree to save the Queen, all while being pursued by the sniveling and villainous Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen).
Now, this didn’t have to be a yawnfest, but it is. The jokes just aren’t very funny, but worse, the characters are pretty much all caricatures and don’t come off as real people at all. But this is a kids’ movie, you say, a fantasy. But it is just so far removed from reality it is nearly impossible to watch. Plus, the dialogue, rather than being snappy and lively, is dreadfully dull.
The actors don’t help.
As I said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr., especially over the past decade, but his performance here as Dolittle is a head-scratcher. He comes off as a muttering grumpy grandpa who you half expect to shout, “Get off my lawn!” at any moment. Any kind of magic is missing from the character here. A big part of it is the story. I mean, he’s grieving the death of his wife, so it makes sense that he’s dark and dreary. It’s just a weird characterization that simply doesn’t work.
Michael Sheen plays things way over the top as the villain, Dr. Mudfly. It’s embarrassingly in-your-face. Antonio Banderas does the same as Dolittle’s embittered father-in-law King Rassouli. Jim Broadbent plays things with a bit more realism as another villain, Lord Thomas Badgley, but he alone is not able to make much of an impact here.
There are a bunch of notable actors doing voicework here for the animals, folks like Emma Thompson, John Cena, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez. But I can’t say that any one of them stood out for me.
As I said, Stephen Gaghan directed, and the one thing going for DOLITTLE is it looks good. The photography is bright, lively, and colorful. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie.
The CGI effects are okay. They’re passable. They are what you would expect to find in a film geared mostly for kids.
Overall, I thought DOLITTLE was a snooze. It only runs for one hour and forty one minutes. I was ready for it to be over after the first fifteen.
There simply isn’t much to like about this one.
Yup, DOLITTLE does little.
They need to quit writing films for adults who think they are secret children and start writing them for the child IN all of us.
Only then will we stop turning kids off and annoying adults….Maybe they should revisit the films of Jerry Lewis and Dick van Dyke as examples of how it is done when they want to use Big Names for adults but entertain children. We know it CAN be done… maybe we need to stop thinking each generation can or should reinvent the wheel?