In 1920 Hugh Lofting wrote “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” the original novel that has now spawned a dozen or so TV movies or series or big screen motion pictures. This time acclaimed Hollywood-pro Stephen Gaghan directs a big-budget version of the famous story. Gaghan won his Oscar as a writer for the screenplay for the harrowing, dramatic, gut-churning and magnificent tale of drug dealers “Traffic.”
Robert Downey Jr. leads a vast cast of famous voices. Downey, as “Dolittle,” has one of the few live-action roles. Everyone else voices talking animals. “Dolittle” features the good doctor as a veterinarian who speaks to and listens to his animal patients.
Look at this list of famous folk lending their talent to this picture. Antonio Banderas plays a human but Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, fresh from his triumph with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” former wrestling star John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez all put their voices on the lips of various animals. Among them, the actors have won or accepted nominations for a flock of Oscars.
Does it work, having all this talent assembled to make a moving picture for kids? Sure, but only in those terms. We have Pixar and have had Pixar for many years now. We have something besides “Snow White” as the gold standard in children’s films to measure things by. The best we can say about “Dolittle” comes out as “it did no harm.” Grown-ups don’t get much to engage them. We can try to guess which famous voice goes with which talking animal but not more than that. No, I won’t give any hints.
The last memorable line in the film goes something like “We can best be kind to ourselves by being kind to others.” That is a good line for little kids, granted. But it shouldn’t take a budget of $175,000,000 to create such a mild message. At best, the moviemakers gave us something useful for us to do if we have small children to entertain on a rainy day.
The PG-rated “Dolittle” runs for one hour and 41 minutes. This high budget, low result, disappointing two and a half saw blade film has the youngest among us as the target audience.
Downey served not just as the star but also as executive producer. This means that he ponied up his own hard-earned money to help make the movie. I hope I have missed something here but it looks like a regrettable financial experience for a guy we all like.
For fans of flatulence, we do have a fart joke involving a dragon. Breaking new ground here.