REVIEW — “Dolittle”
A delightful tale both wild and whimsical, Dolittle is a charming adventure that families will treasure.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Stephen Gaghan, the epic and playful story finds the eccentric Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) living the life of a hermit after the death of his wife seven years earlier. The famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England has locked himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor until Stubbins (Harry Collett), a young, self-appointed apprentice, breaks in to Dolittle’s compound along with a messenger delivering word that the young queen (Jessie Buckley) has fallen gravely ill.
Dolittle and crew are then forced to set sail on an epic and “most perilous journey” to a mythical island in search of a cure. Along the way, he regains his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures.
The good doctor is joined on his quest by a collection of exotic animal companions led by headstrong parrot, Polly (Oscar® winner Emma Thompson). His company includes a tamed polar bear (John Cena), anxious gorilla (Oscar® winner Rami Malek), daffy duck (Oscar® winner Octavia Spencer) and reluctant ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani).
As the good doctor, Downey adopts a unique Welsh-like accent (as well as various barks and growls) and abandons his trademark charm for a more Wonka-esque mystique that bemuses and draws you in — if only to understand his dialogue.
The banter between the talking cast of CGI animals is full of modern catchphrases that, while meant to make kids chuckle, does not fit the era of the film and only serves to detract from an otherwise endearing story that also features the voices of Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour, Carmel Laniado, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Tom Holland, and Craig Robinson.
As for classic villains, the film delivers in spades. Not one but three dastardly archetypes are deliciously played by veteran character actors such as Oscar® winner Jim Broadbent, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Sheen.
Sheen, in particular, summons his inner-Snidely Whiplash for his scene-stealing role as Dr. Blair Müdfly, Dolittle’s long-suffering nemesis and endlessly irritated second banana.
Ironically, it’s the human elements of Dolittle that really sell the film. While the animals are indeed entertaining, it’s the live-action cast’s full commitment to their characters, relationships, and the believe-ability of the world that the film presents — one of an eccentric man who speaks in grunts and squeaks to his squad of wild compatriots — that make the film a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. 2.5/5
Rated PG and with a running time of 1 hour, 41 minutes, Dolittle opens in theaters January 17, 2020.