‘Dolittle’ is directed by Stephen Gaghan and stars Robert Downy Jr. as a famous physician Dr. Dolittle, who has the ability to talk with animals. After being discovered by a young boy with a sick squirrel, Dr. Dolittle is tasked by the Queen to embark on an adventure that could lead to a hidden world. This is a complete departure from the 1998 Eddie Murphy comedy, taking influences from the 1922 novel ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’, having much more of a classic adventure tone than a straight comedy.
Robert Downy Jr. has had the career ups and downs of magnanimous proportions, and with leaving the past decade by laying to rest the beloved character of ‘Iron Man’. So I was really surprised to hear that the very next venture would be a kids film, and even more, a property that really hasn’t had much steam. But if any actor can bring a b-level character into the cultural zeitgeist it would be Downy Jr. While I think this isn’t nearly the train wreck people might be expecting or wanting to write about, I think Downy does a fairly impressive job with maybe a less than stellar story and characters.
First off the performance by Robert Downy Jr. is as engaging and fun to watch. He has what I believe is a French accent (though I can’t be sure, at some times it seemed Irish, then English). He takes some of his charms from Sherlock Holmes and applies it here in an interesting way. It’s definitely it’s own performance and a closer adaptation of the character from the original books than with Murphys film. The supporting cast of cute and cuddly critters all had pretty good performances. Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Craig Robinson, Rami Malik, John Cena, Tom Holland, every A list actor voiced some animal in this movie. The main antagonist, played by Michael Sheen was very “paint by numbers” and I believe even twirled his mustache at a point in the film. Not that the film wasn’t built for that type of villain, but it wasn’t super interesting if you already are familiar with this “type” of character you aren’t really surprised by anything they do in the movie.
The effects actually worked pretty well for me, I liked how the showed how Dolittle’s ability to talk to animals worked and they played with that a lot in the movie which found funny. The visual effects on the animals looked cartoonish in a good way while keeping the animals feeling very tangible, something I wish would’ve been implemented in last years’ “The Lion King”. Where the film starts to be generic is after the first act, where the adventure starts there just doesn’t seem to be anything new from that point. It’s great for younger kids that maybe haven’t seen similar films but for older audiences, the films venture more into fart jokes, easy character choices, and a predictable ending.
Yes, though Downy Jr. brings a new dimension to the character making him more of a ‘veterinary detective’, the story after the first act falls into the familiar beats that we’ve seen done in more engaging films. I loved the first act of ‘Dolittle’ it had a very charming vibe that reminded me of films like ‘Paddington’ or ‘Peter Rabbit’, and I think had they chosen to scale down the story from being focused on impressive action pieces and a race to a ‘McGuffin’ storyline and kept it more intimate, we would be seeing a real contender for best films out so far in 2020.
I’m giving ‘Dolittle’ a 6/10