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Dolittle – Movie Review

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Dolittle – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Ever since the character’s debut in Hugh Lofting’s series of books, the concept of Dr. Dolittle was one with the potential to inspire some imaginative films. There is something immediately charming about a veterinarian who can talk to his animal patients. Previous attempts with Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy have given it a game try, albeit with vastly different takes. Dolittle doesn’t bring anything new to the table and one can see the familiar story beats in the screenplay. However, the movie does have a certain old-fashioned feel to it and also seems to exist as a potential showcase for the special effects. Most importantly, the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. just seems right as he embraces the role. Dolittle doesn’t break any ground, but it’s serviceable enough.

The main attraction of any Dr. Dolittle movie is whoever stars as the animal-conversing doctor and how the animals are depicted. Downey, Jr., speaking in what seems to be a Welsh accent, does appear to be having fun and has especially put a lot of thought into his body language. There’s a certain spring in his step, even when he’s doing something as simple as closing a door. Playing Dolittle has given him the opportunity to deviate from Tony Stark, which he hasn’t been allowed to do for a long time. Meanwhile, the animals have been brought to life via some impressive computer-generated effects. The animators strike that balance of making them look somewhat realistic, but still with enough facial expressions to make them likeable and engaging.

Of the animals, Jason Mantzoukas as a dragonfly and Kumail Nanjiani as an ostrich are probably the highlights. Michael Sheen is also along for the ride as one of the movie’s main villains. There is nothing at all subtle about this character and Sheen seems aware of that as he happily chews the scenery whenever he’s on-screen. It’s an extremely committed performance that does produce some of the biggest laughs. As a whole, the comedy in Dolittle is on the hit-or-miss side. There are some obvious family-pandering gags and predictable animal-based jokes, but they’re not too eye-rolling. They just could have used an extra punch-up.

Story-wise, you’re not getting anything original or groundbreaking. There is a nicely animated prologue at the start of the film, but beyond that, the film goes through the plot threads you might expect and there are no surprises to be found. The movie is content to put the action sequences in the needed places as Dolittle and his animal friends take this important journey. We also have Harry Collett’s apprentice, who serves as the audience avatar, but most of our attention is on Downey, Jr. and the computer-generated creatures. Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan, making his first attempt at a family film, does appear to be trying to recreate the children’s movies of his youth and it’s a noble effort.

As far as family pictures go, Dolittle provides the needed requirements of talking animals with distinct personalities and an adventure with plenty of action. Robert Downey, Jr. seems to slide right into the role and bring an unusual charm to the movie. The film also embraces a certain wonder as it wishes to take the audience on a journey, not unlike maybe some of the earlier Disney live-action films. No, it’s not going to set the world on fire with its storytelling, but it’s okay for certain films to merely want to entertain the viewer and take them to a different time and place. This is pure escapism and while not every joke or scene hits, it’s weirdly refreshing how much it embraces the childishness of its premise.

Stefan Ellison

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