Dolittle, a movie about a physician who can talk to animals, is an interesting experiment. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as the aforementioned doctor. Downey Jr. is undoubtedly one of the biggest Hollywood stars at the moment, in large part thanks to the Marvel franchise. The experiment will be to see if his presence in this movie will make anyone care about a project that otherwise seems to serve no purpose. In an age where “box office draw” doesn’t seem to be much of a thing, Dolittle might be one final canary in that coal mine.
So, yes, Downey Jr. is the good doctor who speaks every language any animal—real or mythical—can. His wife died during an adventure many years ago and he’s since become a recluse. But after a summoning from a very sick Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), he’s off on one final adventure—because, let’s be clear, this isn’t getting a sequel—to find a magical MacGuffin that will cure her. A kid (Harry Collett) tags along because the children in the cinema need an audience insert. The adventure sees them face pirates, dangerous creatures, and an over-the-top Michael Sheen, here hamming it up as much as he did in the Twilight franchise. Bless him for that.
It’s Every Adventure Movie Ever but this one has talking animals, voiced by a too-good-for-this-project cast of actors. Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, Tom Holland, John Cena, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Jason Mantzoukas, and Marion Cotillard are all voice actors in this movie. No wonder the budget was just south of $200m. Some of that money probably should have been further allocated to the CGI animals, which aren’t very impressive. The tiger in Life of Pi from 2012 looks better than the tiger in Dolittle from 2020. That’s not how technology should work. But here we are.
What’s lacking, mostly, is fun. Dolittle is a hermit who wants to distance himself from the world, gradually becoming more open and friendly as the film moves on. That’s his arc. But for most of the film, he’s a downer. Dolittle makes few attempts at comedy, and even fewer of those attempts succeed. Nanjiani’s ostrich might get the most laughs, but even those you can count on one hand. Maybe Robinson’s hateful squirrel takes that title. I’m not sure, but even those two don’t generate nearly as many chuckles as you’d hope. Downey Jr. is among the best at quick-wit retorts but that’s been dulled to very nearly a non-factor here. There are four people credited with working on this story, and they’ve come up with the most generic, banal, and lifeless adventure movies we’ve seen in a while. The Dora movie was more inspired, clever, and funny than this.
You’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen this movie before. 6-year-old Timmy has probably seen this movie before. And if not, there are countless other movies out there that are more creative and entertaining than this one. This is the blandest version of this story that could have been told, played as safely as possible in hopes of recouping its shockingly large budget based on (1) Downey Jr. and (2) talking animals. You can do better.
Dolittle is a bland adventure movie with a decent enough message for the young’uns. It isn’t very fun, most of the few attempted laughs fall flat, Downey Jr. is not utilized well, and the CGI animals don’t look very good. It’s a waste of incredible talent, especially on the vocal side, and it’s likely going to go down as one of the biggest “why does this exist?” movies of 2020. It’s just not much fun. I wish there was more to say, but when a movie is this lacking in anything of consequence, that’s all I’ve got.
Conclusion: Dolittle is a bland adventure movie that is missing the fun.
Recommendation: I’m pretty sure Jumanji is still in theaters. Just go see that.
- Rating - 3/103/10