I have been dreading this movie, even moreso than other potential disasters like Cats. Each time the trailer came on (and I had to see it many times), it became more like a doctor’s appointment that I really didn’t look forward to. But people will be curious, so I saw it as my job to take one for the team.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Doctor Dolittle, an eccentric veterinarian who can speak to animals. In this movie, his prime has already come and gone, for we find this version of Dolittle to be secluded and locked away after a personal tragedy. A boy (Harry Collett) arrives at Dolittle’s mansion at the same time as a girl (Carmel Laniado) who asks Dolittle to come investigate why the Queen of England has gotten sick. This triggers a series of events that takes Dolittle to an island of bandits and pirates led by King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas) and Dolittle must dodge and escape a competitor (played by Michael Sheen) who is racing him to the end goal. The various animals we meet are voiced by Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, and many more.
What doesn’t work?
You can see from that list of cast members, that people thought this movie might turn out okay. Oscar-winning talent signed on here. What this movie became, most of them are likely ashamed of.
Let’s start with our lead, Robert Downey Jr. He plays supposedly a Welsh character but this accent is all over the place, most of the time nonexistent. He tried to play this eccentric character but it doesn’t really work. The drama behind him doesn’t work, his humor doesn’t work, it’s overall just a mess and unfortunately Downey tends to be at the center of it.
We zoom out and look at the script. He had to have read this beforehand. The amount of fart jokes, hits in the balls, and other obscene and potty humor jokes… it’s unbearable. I had to look up the director Stephen Gaghan and I expected to see a resume with movies like Wild Hogs or something. This guy directed Syriana starring George Clooney and Gold starring Matthew McConaughey. These were serious films, so I expect he got in over his head with Dolittle and instead of acknowledging “I don’t know how to do this,” he instead tried and failed. The final climax of the film has been spoiled all over the internet, but I won’t spoil it here. It’s wild though. If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.
The visual effects aren’t horrible, but they’re ruined by the ‘animals talking’ conceit which looks completely absurd here. And also… they speak in modern slang, like the voice actors aren’t really acting at all. John Cena plays a polar bear who continually calls people ‘bro’ in this mid-1800s era. An octopus actually says the phrase ‘snitches get stitches.’ It’s very very weird.
This is a disaster. I can see why they released it though, because this cast was not cheap at all, so they’re hoping to at least recuperate some of its ~$175 million budget. This isn’t good for kids, it isn’t good for adults. It has no redeeming qualities. Go see Cats instead.