editor’s note: this review will indeed involve specific details about what occurs in the movie.
In a climactic moment of “Dolittle,” our hero sticks his hands up a dragon’s rectum and begins pulling out bones and armor before the dragon unleashes a massive bit of gas from said backside. Now, all know that a dragon is going to appear in this Stephen Gaghan directed film because earlier in the goings-on we see a medical paper written by John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) about the creatures. As for the unwedging of stuck items in the dragon’s colon, that is out of the complete blue.
To be fair to the above moment, the use of foreshadowing and the employment of a coherent plot as evidenced by seeing the dragon paper is far more unusual in this movie than random weird things like an impacted dragon. With a screenplay from Gaghan and Dan Gregor & Doug Mand, this latest version of “Dolittle” is a frenetic tale with little depth, less sense, and whole lot of terribly bland characters.
They may be 3D animated, but the animals with which Dolittle spends time are paper thin. Did you, for example, know that ducks are dumb, like to the point where they can’t tell vegetables (celery in particular) from medical equipment? Well, at least that’s the one defining characteristic of Dab-Dab, voiced by Octavia Spencer. Rami Malek’s gorilla, Chee-Chee, is scared of things. John Cena voices Yoshi the Polar Bear, a creature whose problem is that he is always cold… wait, no, that problem is his problem at the start of the movie, it’s then never discussed again and instead he doesn’t get along with the Ostrich, Plimpton, who is voiced by Kumail Nanjiani.
Just like the seeming change in Yoshi, “Dolittle” is a movie full of stops and starts and course corrections. One moment a king (Antonio Banderas) is going to have Dolittle killed by a tiger (naturally voiced by Ralph Fiennes). The next, the king explains that he can’t have Dolittle killed because Dolittle’s deceased wife is the king’s daughter and she wouldn’t like it. Dolittle is, of course, only alive because he’s already gotten away from the tiger, but that’s kind of irrelevant to the film.
Although it is rife with problems, the single biggest issue with this movie is that it can’t even abide by its own logic. As an example, here is a man who can talk to animals and, as the movie explains, does so by speaking to each in their native language. So how, exactly, does the Fox (Marion Cotillard) talk to the giraffe (Selena Gomez)? Who knows. Did Dolittle actually manage to get all the animals to learn all the other animals’ languages? No such thing is suggested, as useful as a lingua franca might be.
This review could delve into exactly what is going on with Dolittle here and how the Queen (Jessie Buckley) is dying because Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent) and the evil Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen) have poisoned her, but it seems silly. Even mentioning the above lingua franca problem seems silly. Not as silly perhaps as having Polly the Parrot (Emma Thompson) relate the tale, but it must be said that the Parrot is more understandable than any of the human characters, including Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who brings Dolittle into the mix and Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who gets to tag along with Dolittle simply by being in the right place at the right time.
Even the animation in “Dolittle” is rather disappointing. There are few moments when one actually believes that the animals are interacting with each other or with any of the humans. The movie only barely rises to the level of caricature and with someone like Yoshi, maybe not even that because the bit the caricaturist would choose to accentuate changes abruptly.
There is, undoubtedly, a whole lot of talent on screen and behind the mic here. Although the above is full of names, i is in no way the full list as folks like Craig Robinson, Tom Holland, and Jason Mantzoukas also provide voices. But, with so many folks flying about there isn’t time for any of them. There isn’t even time to decide whether Downey is getting his accent right, but from what we do hear of it, there definitely seem to be fluctuations.
“Dolittle” is an overstuffed beast of a movie. It is crammed full of things that make no sense and add nothing to the story or (potential) humor, but there they are anyway, gumming up the works. It is, in the simplest summation, kind of like a dragon with a blockage in the colon.
photo credit: Universal Pictures