While watching Dolittle, I found myself thinking of another movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen directed by Terry Gilliam. That movie was a box office bomb, and the adults in my life hated it. Now, if one is going to review Dolittle starring Robert Downey Jr. in his first post-Avengers role, perhaps comparing it to an early-1980s Gilliam flop bodes poorly for it. It definitely makes it seem like Dolittle will get (yet another) bad review. Only, I was about ten years old when I saw the Munchausen film, and I adored it. It was magical, crazy, and captured my heart and imagination. This is how I suspect kids of a similar age or younger will feel about Dolittle. The negative reaction to this film might be all so many adults just not “getting it.”
Will it be the launchpad to another franchise for RDJ? Probably not, if the box office numbers stay as sluggish as they are. This seems to be a film that would require a $75- to $100 million opening weekend to truly be seen as a “success” deserving a sequel. It may make back it’s $175 million budget over the course of its run, but it’s not the success Universal wanted it to be. That studio is notoriously skittish about box office bombs, and Dolittle is the follow-up to the much-maligned Cats. (Look for future Universal films to lean heavily on practical effects.)
Still, Dolittle does not deserve the scorn it receives from the critics. As a children’s fantasy film, Dolittle is cute, fun, and sweet. It’s the kind of movie that kids will love watching and feel great nostalgia for when they grow up.
Finally, a Good Review for Dolittle
Image via Universal Pictures
Putting aside Universal’s franchise hopes, this movie will do the job it’s meant to do: entertain kids and their parents. The film has something of a chaotic plot, and it rarely slows down. In fact, the opening of the film recaps a bunch of Dolittle stories we’ll never see. This serves to set Dr. Dolittle up as a man who gave up on the world. Enter two kids. They rope the good doctor into an adventure to save the Queen of England™ by finding a magical tree on a hidden island.
The relationships between Dolittle and his apprentice Stubbins, played by Harry Collett, and the menagerie of A-list-voiced animal characters are what will land with kids. Chee-Chee, a gorilla voiced by Rami Malek, is the most obvious. His journey from being crippled by fear to astounding heroism is something Mister Rogers would love. A big, strong animal being afraid is the kind of message to kids he tried to impart in his show.
Mister Rogers notoriously hated television and movies, mostly because of violence played for laughs. Yet, throughout their adventures, Dolittle and company help more people (and animals) than they harm. For example, a large tiger named Barry, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, wants to eat Dr. Dolittle, but only because what he really needs is a therapist. Again, this all sounds mad. It’s no wonder that every review of Dolittle in very adult publications trash it. It’s earnestness and childish humor are mixed in with a nigh-nonsensical plot. Michael Sheen plays Dr. Müdfly, an irrationally manic villain, in on a scheme that’s less divorced from reality than talking dragonflies.
But it works. The story is easy to follow (if not to swallow), and there are laughs and sweet moments throughout.
Like the Wu-Tang Clan, Dolittle Is for the Children
Image via Universal Pictures
Going into Dolittle to cast a critical eye is a mistake. The story that starts the film sounds more interesting than the story we get. Even though the film is set in Victorian times (with RDJ pulling off a passable Welsh accent), the language is very colloquial. Dolittle himself appears to be both a veterinarian and a doctor for humans. Yet, if you go to see the film (even ironically), there are moments that will certainly charm you. One sequence where Chee-Chee’s fear puts Dolittle in mortal danger is genuinely touching. Every so often the animals will drop a line that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. If you can actually give yourself to the story, without trying to stick your head through “plot holes,” it’s a pretty fun ride. That’s what makes Dolittle a film that kids will love. They will accept the story and characters as they are. For us grown-ups, we have been skeptical of the film since the trailer first debuted. But maybe we shouldn’t have.
Dolittle Is the Kind of Kids’ Movie People Asked For
Image via Universal Pictures
Before we wrap up our review of Dolittle, there is one more thing. It has little do with what this film is, however, and more with what it isn’t. It’s not a remake like Aladdin or The Lion King. Sure, it’s based on a series of books from a century ago, and it has been otherwise adapted twice. Yet, this is a very different take on the character than the books or previous films offered. In a sea of remakes and retreads, Dolittle is a film that feels like a brand-new thing. If Dolittle fails, it will just be more “evidence” to studio executives that the only films that drive big box office returns are sequels, remakes, and existing franchises. Even though this is the third live-action incarnation of Dr. Dolittle, this film certainly is different than the norm.
Along with that, it’s easily one of the least violent films for kids these days. It’s got thrills, excitement, and some death. However, it’s not gratuitous nor do the heroes of the film actively seek it. Wrapped in this silly CGI adventure is a story about human connection, loss, and how people deal with it. It’s perfectly presented in a way that will resonate with kids. This review of Dolittle and all the others may be looked back on with surprise one day. Because I feel like a generation of kids will grow up loving this movie.
What did you think of Dolittle? Did you agree with the critics or did you see the fun in it? Leave your own review of Dolittle in the comments below!
Featured image via Universal.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.