… and they would be right! Yet the real tragedy of Dolittle is that, sitting through it, one can so easily see both the glorious children’s adventure it aspired to be and the lumpy sodden mess that it became.
A pity, really.
Cats and Dolittle threaten Universal Picture’s financial stability?
The Plot in Brief: Veterinarian Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey), has the ability to talk to animals, but he has become a recluse after the death of his wife, Lily. Through the efforts of the parrot Polynesia (Emma Thompson), young Tom Stubbins (Harry Collett), and Lady Rose (Carmel Ladiado), Dolittle heals an injured squirrel, foils a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), and returns to the world of the living (animals as well as people.)
The problem with this film is immediately evident: the producers got cold feet for some reason and ordered reshoots and redubs. The erratic editing style speaks to a film that wouldn’t cut together, and the amount of shots where people and animals speak, but we only see them from behind, suggests a lot of re-looping. Much of the CGI animal dialogue is strangely contemporary and anachronistic and doesn’t match the tone of what we are seeing on screen. Could the producers have hired second-rate comedians to goose the dialogue? Whatever the source, the dismal “results” include sequences like John Cena’s Polar Bear and Kumail Nunjani’s Ostrich referring to each other as “Bro.” That’s the joke—just “Bro.” Really? In a film that takes place in the 19th century?
Various smaller animals constantly provide annoying commentary on the action, with lines like “Well, that’s gotta hurt.” An animal cellmate of Dolittle’s in the film’s prison sequence asks if Dolittle is so scared that he “doo-doo’d a little in his pants.” Get it? Doo… doo… LITTLE? In the same sequence, a menacing tiger voiced by Ralph Fiennes is dispatched by a hard kick to his groin. Ouch! Tiger’s got nards! In the early 21st century, this is how we reward our Academy Award nominees.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I attended the first matinee screening on opening day. The only other patrons in the cavernous Dolby Cinema theater were a young mother and her two sons. They left halfway through.
The only entertainment onscreen are the performances, short and truncated though they seem, of some of the supporting cast. Jim Broadbent comes up with a fun, stuffy voice for his character. Michael Sheen is gleeful as the villain, and even comes equipped with a moustache to twirl. Antonio Banderas (Yes!) shows up halfway through the film as a pirate king (Cool!), and is immediately given barely any screen time. (Boo!) Do the producers hate these actors? Did they think they had to pay them by the word? Why pay to hire these three brilliant character actors and then NOT give them anything interesting to say or do? I swear, there is a little, annoying flying bug character in this movie who has more screen time than Broadbent and Banderas combined.
I think there is a vast audience of young people who have the taste and patience for a slower, more thoughtful, flatulence-free Dolittle. Pity the poor producers who want with all their hearts to make an excellent children’s adventure film, but give actual children so little credit. This new film makes the unwieldy mess that is the Rex Harrison version… look like a masterpiece. At least that version has catchy songs.