Dolittle (PG) - 101 minutes
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
I certainly hope children will get more out of this ludicrous fantasy than I did – and I suspect they will – for I found it almost unbearable (pun fully intended).
After losing his wife Lily (Italian actress Kasia Smutniak) seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), famed veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, has become a hermit.
He locks himself away from the rest of the world, behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company.
But when the youngish queen (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure.
As he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures he regains his wit and courage.
The doctor is joined on his quest by young, self-appointed apprentice Stubbins (Harry Collett) and a raucous coterie of animal friends.
They include Chee-Chee (the voice of Rami Malek), an anxious, self-conscious gorilla and Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), an enthusiastic but bird-brained duck.
There there is the bickering duo of cynical, neurotic ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani) and chill polar bear Yoshi (John Cena).
I mustn’t forget the headstrong parrot named Polynesia (Emma Thompson), who serves as Dolittle’s most trusted advisor and confidante as well as his reliable conscience. She also acts as the narrator of the piece.
Among other cast members in the adventure are Antonio Banderas as pirate king Rassouli, Michael Sheen as Dr Blair Müdfly, who was Dolittle’s nemesis at university and is Queen Victoria’s palace physician.
Jim Broadbent puts in an appearance as Lord Badgley, the noble assigned to protect the queen.
But the voice talent doesn’t stop there. Marion Cotillard is Tutu, a cunning and courageous fox, Tom Holland is Jip, an intelligent and loyal, sight-challenged, long-haired lurcher dog.
Selena Gomez voices an escape artist giraffe named Betsy, while Craig Robinson is Kevin, an injured squirrel, who is equal parts brash, honest and spiteful, and Ralph Fiennes is gold toothed Barry, a ferocious and troubled tiger with mummy issues.
Dolittle’s screenplay was written by director Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor and Doug Mand.
On the strength of this, Gaghan should stick with dramatic realism such as he got when he helmed Syriana 15 years ago.
Dolittle has a preposterous storyline, is exceedingly silly, shallow and all but transparent.
Mere seconds in I wanted it to end. Never a good sign.
In my eyes it has much in common with Jumanji: The Next Level, which has done well at the box office, but I couldn’t stomach.
The acting – if you can even call it that – would be more at home in a school pantomime.
The special effects look like special effects. In other words, I was forever conscious of them, rather than them being woven seamlessly into the plot.
The creatures and their carryings on merely served to irritate me.
Most of the intended humour fell flat.
As you can well and truly tell by now, I see little, if anything, to recommend Dolittle to anyone other than children, but that alone may be enough.
Rated PG, it scores a 3 out of 10.