Rating1.0 / 5
Robert Downey, Jr, Michael Sheen, Antonio Banderas
16 January 2020
Robert Downey Jr. follows up his quality turn as Tony Stark with a lifeless rendition of a beloved children’s character.
Dolittle is a sad excuse for a family adventure. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Doctor John Dolittle, an eccentric physician in Victorian England who can converse with animals. Dolittle’s been played in the past by Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy, both of whom attacked the role with great energy. This time, Downey Jr. seems curiously detached, as if he’d rather be somewhere else. I don’t blame him.
The movie is one gigantic CGI extravaganza. I wouldn’t be surprised if an artificial intelligence created the screenplay as well, since the dialogue is wildly anachronistic, and the plot sets off on cruise control right from the start to a climax so ridiculous I had to slap myself to believe it. And I still don’t.
John Dolittle, having lost the love of his life to a violent storm at sea, has locked himself away inside his vast animal sanctuary filled with all sorts of creatures. One day, a young girl (Carmel Laniado) arrives with news of Queen Victoria’s imminent demise at the hands of a fateful illness and demands Dolittle’s consultation. He determines the queen’s been poisoned, so sets sail on a perilous voyage to find the fabled Eden Tree, whose magical fruit is the only thing in the world that can save her.
So far so good, right? Wrong. This should’ve been a bright, challenging adventure for children, for whom the original books by Hugh Lofting were written and this movie was made. There is nothing pleasing, delightful or educational about this Dolittle. If kids like it at all it’d be because Stephen Gaghan directs it like a breakfast commercial, chopped into bite-sized pieces in the editing room. It’s brisk and full of energy, which kids will inhale without question. But once their parents begin to wonder if anyone from Victorian England ever really used the phrase “Snitches be gettin’ stitches, bro”, they’ll want their money back.
The more I reflect upon Dolittle the more problematic it becomes. I get that John can speak to animals, but how do the animals speak to each other? Do they all share in his power? As the story by Thomas Shepherd was finalised, did no one think his proposed climax was too outlandish to be included? And how is it possible that in this day and age we are still treated to unimpressive CGI not even rendered in the correct frame rate?
The answer to the last question is easy, and it presents Dolittle‘s greatest sin of all. To voice such a large collection of animated animals requires the most expensive cast one can assemble, including Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard, all of whom are egregiously squandered of course, since their faces cannot be seen and their voices aren’t distinctive enough to be properly appreciated. It’s no wonder the film had no money left for anything else.
Images (c) Universal Pictures 2020