Amy Murray, Contributor.
In a cinematic age which appears to be obsessed with remake after remake, here we have yet another competitor which does not live up to its iconic source material. The premise of this adaptation of the classic story follows the titular Doctor on a quest to find a remedy for the fatally ill Queen. Accompanied by his new apprentice, Tommy Stubbins, and a number of animals, the group encounter a number of compelling characters and obstacles on their adventure.
My personal highlight was the beautiful opening animated Prologue which tells the tale of Dr Dolittle’s early adventures with his wife. Following on from this, however, the exposition feels rather rushed. Each stage of the plot drives towards the numerous action sequences, which are almost exclusively fuelled by some form of verbal or clumsy slapstick comedy involving animal puns.
The film does feature some compelling performances, particularly from Robert Downey Jr in the title role. He creates a quirky but likeable interpretation of the iconic Doctor, similar to Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy, but his Welsh accent is rather unconvincing. Emma Thompson also plays a large role in her performance as Polynesia the macaw parrot. She brings sternness and elegance as Dolittle’s own version of Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket, although her character appears to be there purely to fill in any missing exposition from cut scenes.
The majority of the $175 million budget seems to have been used to hire a star-studded cast. Although, in this case, the ensemble doesn’t quite meld as well as others have. John Cena takes a the role of Yoshi, a polar bear who says ‘bro’ more times than I can count. Rami Malek’s take on Chee-Chee, a gorilla, is equal parts heartfelt and funny. Craig Jackson takes a slightly smaller role as Kevin, a squirrel who first brings Stubbins and Dolittle together. In any other film, his character may be seen as light comic relief, but in such a light joke-filled film he occasionally melts into the background. This can be said especially about parts of his dialogue which suggest plot development that never resurfaces. Stubbins himself, played by Harry Collett, honestly feels as though he has been shoe-horned into the film to give children someone to relate to. Although he initially works well as a vehicle for seeing the world of Dolittle through new, unfamiliar eyes in the opening scenes, his role doesn’t add anything of substance to the rest of the film beyond the forced father-son relationship which begins to grow between him and Dolittle.
The film does have its charms. Our initial look at Dolittle’s house and animals in the transition from animation to live action will leave you anticipating what could only be a whimsical adventure. Nevertheless, the whimsy takes a back seat as the plot develops and the creatures humanised characters begin to show. Any subtle complexities in the storyline have been exchanged for a collection of much safer family friendly jokes, the majority of which seems to have been taken from an animal joke book. This doesn’t necessarily make it any less enjoyable – I enjoyed the humorous transitions between animal noises and human speech in particular – but it does leave you wanting more from the seemingly two-dimensional characters. Moreover, the individual character arcs of the animal’s personal conflicts are resolved rather early in the film, subsequently downgrading them to gimmicks.
Good music makes a good film for me and Danny Elfman’s was the perfect choice for such a fanciful story. His latest contribution to film music is playful and compliments the onscreen action with his signature musical whimsy.
Overall, this is certainly an enjoyable film for families with younger children. It’s visually appealing with enough humour to keep young ones entertained, but it does not go above and beyond to create something deeper for a kids film that adults alike can enjoy too (see Lego Movie, Toy Story and Shrek among many others). Certainly an entertaining watch, but no cinematic masterpiece.
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes