By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: A passable diversion for the youngest of moviegoers, the central problem is the absolutely lack of impression left by Robert Downey Jr.’s interpretation of the title character.
Something obviously went awry during production of Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-Avengers blockbuster attempt, Dolittle. A reimagining of the 1967 Rex Harrison-starring classic Doctor Dolittle (nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture) and the 1998 Eddie Murphy hit, this Dolittle is a Victorian England-set fantasy. The result is colorful but boring, not entirely unwatchable—just… lacking. And yes, writer-director Stephen Gaghan (Oscar winner for writing Traffic and nominated again for Syriana) pushes the whole fantasy angle to a degree not previously scene in this franchise.
Dr. Dolittle speaking with animals is, obviously, the stuff of fantasy—early on, Downey has some fun moments as we hear him speaking in various animal-specific lingo (this idea is largely abandonded in favor of straight-up English from both sides). But once the animal doc sails the open seas in search of an antidote to poison ingested by the Queen of England (great premise for a kiddie flick: a political assasination attempt?), he and his menagerie encounter a fire-breathing dragon of the Smaug variety. It’s a bit too much.
An admittedly charming animated prologue explains that Dolittle lost his wife at sea (another cheery plot element for the young ‘uns!) and has since retreated from public life. Two children coax him reluctantly back in. Chiefly, Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) delivers the dire news regarding young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Never mind that Dolittle is a veterinarian who’s tasked with saving a human. His late wife’s father (Antonio Banderas) has sacred scrolls which will reveal the location of a magical berry, the juice of which can cure the Queen’s ills. The animals are simply along for the ride.
The other kid is Stubbins (Harry Collett), an animal lover whose accidental shooting of a squirrel leads him to Dolittle’s mansion. He stowes away on Dolittle’s ship and quickly wins the doctor over. But as the doctor, Downey never wins the audience over. It seems that beyond the character’s general appearance and unusual accent, he didn’t bother to invest anything else that would endear us to the veterinarian.
CG animals are voiced by a motley crew of celebs and again, no one makes any particularly potent impression. Dolittle isn’t really a disaster, just a big, loud, frenetic F/X picture that isn’t much fun.