Dolittle, rated PG
Dolittle, based on the children’s books of Hugh Lofting, is an enjoyable film, starring Robert Downey Jr. in his first non-Iron Man role since 2014’s The Judge. The film is directed by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor (How I Met Your Mother), Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother) and Thomas Shepherd. The film had an estimated budget of $175 million. The film’s release date has been delayed a few times, and it had 21 days of expensive reshoots after poor test screenings. The film is getting pummeled by the critics (getting a score of “16” on Rotten Tomatoes.com as I write this), but we enjoyed the film.
The film begins with an animated prologue that gives us the backstory of Dr. John Dolittle, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man films, Tropic Thunder, Chaplin), and his beloved wife Lily, played by Kasia Smutniak in live-action flashbacks. They presided over Dolittle Manor, a large sanctuary in the English countryside where they cared for – and communicated with – animals. But one day Lily, a master explorer, went out on a voyage at sea while Dolittle cared for the animals, and her ship wrecked in a storm and she died. After Lily’s death, Dolittle closed the doors of the sanctuary and fell into a deep depression.
Seven years later, Dolittle is living as a recluse in Dolittle Manor, avoiding all contact with humans while surrounded by a small band of loyal animal friends:
- Dolittle’s pup Jip, voiced by Tom Holland (Spider-Man films).
- Polynesia, a parrot, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howard’s End), who also narrates the film.
- Dab-Dab, a duck, voiced by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help).
- Yoshi, a polar bear, voiced by John Cena (Bumblebee).
- Chee-Chee, a gorilla, voiced by Oscar winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody).
Tommy Stubbins, played by Harry Collett, who has accidentally shot and wounded a squirrel named Kevin, hilariously voiced by Craig Robinson, is hoping that Dr. Dolittle can save him. Lady Rose, played by Carmel Laniado, has come to Dolittle Manor hoping that Dolittle can save the teenage Queen Victoria, played by Jessie Buckley, who is on her deathbed due to a mysterious affliction. Dolittle declines to help Lady Rose, until he is told that if the Queen dies, Dolittle Manor will be shut down and all inhabitants will be evicted.
When Dolittle gets to Buckingham Palace, he encounters the evil Dr. Mudfly, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen), who has been jealous of Dolittle since their days in medical school. Lord Thomas Badgley, played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris), has been poisoning the Queen with the plant Nightshade, and would assume the throne if she dies.
Doolittle knows that the only antidote for the Queen is the fruit of the magical Eden Tree, which is what Lily was searching for on her doomed trip. So Dolittle and his gang head to Monteverdi, to get Lily’s journal, which is the key to finding the Eden Tree. Lord Badgley, who doesn’t want Dolittle to save the Queen, sends Dr. Mudfly after him to keep from achieving his mission.
When they get to Monteverdi, they run into a ferocious tiger named Barry, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient). Dolittle also encounters the powerful King Rassouli, played by Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas (Dolor y gloria), who is also Dolittle’s father-in-law, blames Dolittle for Lily’s death, and wants to kill him.
Will Doolittle and his friends be able to avoid the danger, and find the Eden Tree in time to save Queen Victoria?
Themes in the film include evil, friendship and teamwork. Content concerns include a small amount of light adult language, some adult humor, and some violence.
Downey Jr., is effective as Dr. Dolittle, though his Welsh accent is dreadful and makes him hard to understand. The computer-generated imagery (CGI) used for the animals is excellent, as is the musical score by four-time Oscar nominee Danny Elfman (Milk, Big Fish, Men in Black, Good Will Hunting).
Dolittle is an entertaining film for all ages based on the children’s books of Hugh Lofting.