Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Premise: Inspired by the children’s books by Hugh Lofting. The Queen of England has fallen deathly ill. A veterinarian (Robert Downey Jr.) who is capable of talking to animals undertakes a journey to find the plant that will cure her.
What Works: The special effects of Dolittle are impressive. The movie is a showcase of digital performances by animal characters and a lot of effort was put into making these creatures look real while also allowing them human traits. The animals speak English and the filmmakers portray these creatures in a way that doesn’t look ridiculous or dispel the illusion as it was in Disney’s remake of The Lion King.
What Doesn’t: The special effects are about the only thing done well in Dolittle. The human cast is led by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. Downey is terrible in this. He’s done British accents before but his voice in Doolittle is something else. Downey constantly mugs and flails around the screen in a performance that is reminiscent of Adam Sandler. The rest of the cast isn’t much better. Most of them aren’t given anything to do except react to Downey and his animals and they are saddled with terrible dialogue. Dolittle is paired with a boy, played by Harry Collett, who wants to be his apprentice. The two of them have nothing to do together despite spending the majority of the movie in the same scenes and they never bond. Dolittle and his would-be apprentice don’t grow as characters or learn anything about each other or themselves. Instead, the filmmakers pile on the set pieces and special effects but it’s a lot of noise. There is nothing at stake here, nothing for the audience to hold onto or invest in. The adventure isn’t exciting and the jokes are lame. Dolittle is a children’s film, as opposed to a family movie, but that is no excuse. Plenty of great children’s movies have interesting characters in compelling, age appropriate stories that deal with substantive ideas or themes. Dolittle has nothing. And perhaps the film’s most outstanding quality is how generic it is. Dolittle has a unique premise with this man able to speak with animals but that talent is incidental. The cast of animal characters are just people with fur and feathers; the same story could be told with an all human cast. The set pieces have no style and Downey’s erratic performance comes across as an effort to distract us from the emptiness of the movie.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: Dolittle is a generic slog, the kind of bland product produced by Hollywood studios in an effort to appeal to everyone that in the end satisfies no one. It’s a film intended for children but it’s doubtful that kids will get anything out of it or even be entertained by it.
Episode: #799 (May 3, 2020)