Movie Review: "Dolittle"
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 has made him somewhat of a joke to his fellow doctors. Nonetheless, none can argue with his results.
Now, he lives a reclusive lifestyle, but that will not last for long. A young boy 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 has found her way onto Dr. Dolittle's estate as well, claiming that the Queen has fallen deathly ill and has personally requested Dr. Dolittle's aid. Dr. Dolittle has no problem getting along with animals, but has a troubled past when it comes to his relationships with other humans, so he has tried to distance himself from the world of man. However, his days as a recluse have clearly come to an end.
The Pros & 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 where adults will have a little game for themselves, as they try to put names to 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. They were somewhat entertaining to see interacting with one another, as well as interacting with Dr. Dolittle. Each 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. You will not come out of the movie having really cared about any of them, but they were effective enough to entertain kids while they were on the screen.
Con: Talking to One Another & The Boy (-3pts)
Both of these things ended up being pretty minor issues, but neither were ones that I could ignore entirely. First, 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 has learned each animal's specific language, and 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, because the filmmakers setup the fact that each animal only knew their own language. At the end of the day, this was a pretty minor gripe as this was a pretty unrealistic premise for a kids movie—so I should not take it too seriously—but I definitely took minor issue with the fact that the filmmakers did not seem to follow their own rules.
Then there was the boy (Harry Collett) who was in this movie, but was not integral to the story at all. He did not contribute anything to this story, he did not grow as a character, and he raised a lot of questions regarding the alarming rate at which he was able to learn how to speak to animals. The character very honestly could have been taken out of the movie, and the story would not have changed at all. I had no problem with the actor, but the character got almost no development and did not serve this story in any way.
Pro: The Adventure (+3pts)
The adventure in this movie was nothing special, but it was enough to keep me watching. It never felt dull or incoherent. 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 took the audience to plenty of new places—all of which used the animal characters in unique ways that will keep kids entertained. Again, it could have been more interesting or more original, but the adventure definitely served its purpose.
Con: The Objective (-5pts)
I know I already mentioned this, but it was deserving of its own section in this review. The adventure had its moments, but the objective of that adventure was not great. It was like going for a drive and thinking the view pleasant enough, but knowing that you are going somewhere that you are not a fan of. 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 grows from a generic, magical tree, which is located on a generic island that is 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 and cliche. Making this the objective of this story 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 instead they 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 in the movie, 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 Robert Downy Jr. in the lead role. Granted, without him, the studio would not have had to pay a Robert Downey Jr. salary. Nonetheless, his presence certainly raised interest in this movie.
Then there was his performance in the movie. Did he deliver a spot-on Welsh accent? I honestly have no idea. This was not intended to be a heavily dramatic movie, but he played the part in an entertaining way, while also giving emotional depth to the character. This performance certainly will not win him any awards, but he easily made this character and this movie more interesting than it could have been otherwise. You will not leave this movie impressed with his performance, but it is hard to argue that he was able to get more butts in seats, and he played the part well enough.
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 mission. Unfortunately, the antagonists ended up being so typically one-dimensional that I could not resist the urge to roll my eyes more than once. First there was the obvious antagonist: Mudfly (Michael Sheen)—who was your typical evil doctor, trying to achieve power and fame. I mean I am not kidding, when you see this guy’s mustache you will know everything you need to know about the character.
Then there was—without giving anything away—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 did not give any enough development to make any of them effective villains. I think there was a decent story to be told with Mudfly—an old acquaintance of Dr. Dolittle, whose career has been overshadowed by Dolittle’s even though Dolittle’s methods have 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 each of these characters, and the movie was worse off for it.
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. The movie definitely could have been good, and it certainly had its strengths, but those strengths were definitely outweighed by its weaknesses. Fortunately, I think this movie serves its primary goal of being able to entertain kids. I did not really enjoy it, but I thought its strengths were enough to make it barely watchable.