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Movie Review: "Dolittle"

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 1/17/2020

Theatrical Release: 1/17/2020


Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is somewhat of a recluse. He has isolated himself entirely from other humans, but he has an assortment of animal companions that live with him on his estate. He was once a renowned doctor and explorer, with his specialty being communicating with animals. He is fluent in seemingly all animal languages, which allows him to talk to animals and learn from them. This talent is something that has been instrumental to his success, but it has made him a joke in the eyes of his peers. Nonetheless, no one can argue with his results.

Now, he lives a reclusive lifestyle, but that will not last for long. A young boy (Harry Collett) finds his way to Dr. Dolittle's estate, in the hopes that the doctor will be able to help an injured squirrel in his possession. Additionally, a young girl (Carmel Laniado) has also found her way onto Dr. Dolittle's estate, claiming that the Queen has fallen deathly ill and that she has personally requested Dr. Dolittle's aid. Dr. Dolittle has no problem getting along with animals, but humans are a different story. He has enjoyed his time as a recluse, but like it or not, those days have seemed to have come to an end.

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then awarded for each Pro and taken away for each Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points ranging from 0-10, allowing me to convey to you how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Animals & The Voices (+3pts)

Talking to One Another & The Boy (-3pts)

The Adventure (+3pts)

The Objective (-5pts)

Robert Downey Jr. (+3pts)

The Antagonists (-6pts)


Pro: The Animals & The Voices (+3pts)

This was one of those movies in which adult viewers will make a little game trying to guess the names behind the voices of each animal. I definitely got some fun out of doing so, but I also liked the variety of personalities that the animals had. It was somewhat entertaining to see them interacting with one another, as well as interacting with Dr. Dolittle. Each animal had their own strengths, and I enjoyed seeing how those strengths worked in Dr. Dolittle's favor.

I thought there were a few too many animals in the movie, which made it difficult to really care about any of them greatly, but I enjoyed guessing the actor's voice that went with each character and I thought the animals were entertaining enough for a kids movie.


Con: Talking to One Another & The Boy (-3pts)

The filmmakers went out of their way—a number of times—to explain that the animals did not magically understand Dr. Dolittle as he spoke English. Instead, they explained that Dr. Dolittle had learned each animal's specific language and that he was communicating with each of them in their own languages.

Knowing that, it was then a little odd to see the animals communicating with one another, as the implication was that they all knew each other's languages, but not English. At the end of the day, this was a pretty minor gripe as this was a pretty unrealistic premise to begin with, and it was a kids movie.

Then there was the boy, who was in this movie, but who was not integral to the story in really any way. He also raised some questions regarding the alarming rate at which he was able to learn how to speak to animals. Dr. Dolittle had supposedly mastered the animal languages over the course of many years, but the boy picked it up incredibly quickly.

At the end of the day, this character did not contribute anything to the story, he did not grow as a character, and he poked holes in the premise of the movie. It was unfortunate, but the movie probably would have been better off without him.

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Pro: The Adventure (+3pts)

The adventure in this movie was nothing special, but it was enough to keep me watching. The adventure had a simple objective, clear stakes, and plenty of obstacles to throw at the protagonists. I thought some aspects could have been done better, but it kept the plot moving and it took the audience to plenty of new places—all of which used the animal characters in unique ways that will surely keep kids entertained. The adventure was not all that interesting or original, but it definitely served its purpose, which was to entertain younger viewers.


Con: The Objective (-5pts)

The adventure had its moments, but the objective of that adventure was not great. The objective felt like a super lazy and generic idea for an adventure movie, and it kind of took away from Dr. Dolittle’s unique ability. Dr. Dolittle needed to find a generic, mythical flower, that grew from a generic, magical tree, which was located on a generic island that was not located on any map.

I feel like I have seen this exact thing in about a thousand movies, which made this movie feel very predictable. This objective took away from the unique idea of a doctor-explorer who could talk to animals. The filmmakers could have delivered a much better story with this premise, but they instead decided to go with one of the most generic missions they could have thought of.


Pro: Robert Downey Jr. (+3pts)

Before even getting into his performance, Robert Downey Jr. added a lot to this movie. This movie did not do well at the box office, but I have no doubt that the movie would have done even worse without the actor in the lead role. To be fair, without him, the studio would not have had to pay a Downey-sized salary, but his presence certainly raised interest in this movie. Then, putting aside the ridiculously fake-sounding accent, I thought he played the part in an entertaining way.

This was clearly not intended to be a heavily dramatic role, but he managed to give emotional depth to the character anyway. He easily made this character and this movie more interesting than it would have been without him, and while you will not leave this movie impressed with his performance, it would be hard to argue that he was able to get more butts in seats and that he played the decently enough—again, aside from the accent.


Con: The Antagonists (-6pts)

The mission may have been generic, but a story is as good as its villain, so a strong villain could have saved this movie from the generic nature of the mission. Unfortunately, the antagonists ended up being typically one-dimensional, and they induced more than a few eye rolls from me. First, there was the obvious antagonist: Mudfly (Michael Sheen)—who was your typical evil doctor, trying to achieve power and fame. He was as typical an antagonist as they come, as when you see this guy and his mustache, you will know everything you need to know about the character.

Then there was Dr. Dolittle’s old acquaintance on an island where he used to live, and there was also the antagonist who was responsible for all of the events of this movie. They were all incredibly typical, one-dimensional, and predictable characters. The filmmakers had three antagonists in this movie, but they did not give any of them enough development to make them effective villains.

I thought there was a decent story to be told with Mudfly—an old acquaintance of Dr. Dolittle, whose career had been overshadowed by Dolittle’s even though Dolittle’s methods made him a joke to his peers—but the filmmakers gave the interesting aspects of Mudfly’s story no focus. Instead, they ended up going in the most typical and least interesting direction with him and the other two antagonists, and the movie was definitely worse off for it.

Grading Scale






























Grade: C- (70pts)

This was Robert Downey Jr.’s first movie after completing his run as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it was certainly a weird one. The movie had promise—being a kid’s movie with adventure, with a big lead actor, and with a bunch of talking animals—but it ended up having a bunch of issues.

There was the incredibly generic objective, the wildly unnecessary presence of the boy, a couple of severely one-dimensional antagonists, and the logistics of how the animals were able to communicate with each other. This movie could have been good, and it certainly had its strengths, but those strengths were ultimately outweighed by its weaknesses. I thought this movie served its primary goal of entertaining kids, but its issues were hard to ignore.

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