By: Kayla Caldwell
Let me first get this out of the way: DOLITTLE is absolutely ridiculous. It’s cheesy, over-the-top, and also, the perfect vehicle for a post-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr.
DOLITTLE kicks off with an Up-style animated sequence telling the story of Dr. John Dolittle (Downey Jr.), and the love of his life, Lily (Kasia Smutniak). Not unlike Up, the story ends with the tragic death of his beloved, leading Dolittle to close the doors to the couple’s magical estate and lock himself away from all people forever.
Of course, his depression hibernation is interrupted by the young Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett), who is trying desperately to save a squirrel that he accidentally shot while out with his father and brother. See, Stubbins is a sweet, sensitive boy with a deep passion for animals. That clashes quite spectacularly with the rest of his family, who happen to be hunters.
In an effort to “accidentally” miss shooting a duck, Stubbins shot into the air, accidentally hitting a squirrel climbing through the trees. He immediately gets caught in a trap after breaking onto the Dolittle compound, but is thankfully saved by Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who is looking for the great doctor to save Queen Victoria.
Initially, Dolittle refuses to help, wanting to instead stay in his self-imposed isolation. However, then he is reminded that the great oasis he and the animals call home - which was gifted to him by Queen Victoria - will only remain in his control as long as she is alive. That means that if he doesn’t save her, he and all of the animals will be homeless.
So he prepares his ship for the voyage, bringing along a bunch of animal friends because he prefers them to an actual crew, apparently. There’s the bossy (yet wise) parrot Poly (voiced by Emma Thompson), a very anxious gorilla named Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), Dab-Dab the duck (voiced by Octavia Spencer), Jip, a glasses-wearing dog (voiced by Tom Holland), Tutu, a fox (voiced by Marion Cotillard), Betsy, a giraffe (voiced by Selena Gomez), Yoshi, a polar bear (voiced by John Cena), and his hesitant “bro” Plimpton (voiced hilariously by Kumail Nanjiani).
Plimpton was one of the highlights of the film, a shy, smart aleck of an Ostrich who did not want to be Dolittle’s noble steed. Throughout the movie he can be seen sticking his head into whatever will hide it (be it sand, a planter, etc.), and cracking jokes like, “Oh, you’ve got an apprentice? Then you don’t need an Ostrich. I’ll just go.”
Jason Mantzoukas voices a well-meaning but misguided dragon fly who tries to help Dolittle’s mission, but more often than not ends up derailing it, only to use his tiny, winged body to his advantage when all hell breaks loose, flying away unharmed.
Craig Robinson also shines as Kevin, the squirrel Stubbins inadvertently shot at the beginning of the movie. Throughout the film, he spouts short monologues about his journey with Dolittle and Stubbins, as if he were recording a video diary of being forced to travel alongside his [attempted] murderer.
All that is to say, there are many bright spots in this film. The biggest issue I had with DOLITTLE was probably the random magical moments. RDJ does a perfect job of interacting with the animals so naturally that you can suspend disbelief until it becomes increasingly normal to hear a dog give a medical diagnosis or the wise and comforting voice of Thompson, coming out of a bird.
However, when the colorful crew stumbles upon the magical Eden Tree, protected by a dragon with indigestion, things kind of take a turn for the ludicrous. There is literally a bit where Dolittle must dislodge armor, bones, and other oddities from the dragon’s colon.
And then you have the movie's villains: Michael Sheen as a walking old-timey bad guy trope, and his accomplice, Jim Broadbent as the wicked Lord Thomas Badgley. Sheen's Dr. Blair Müdfly ticked all the typical boxes. He's a longtime nemesis of Dolittle. He has a dramatic mustache that comes to a point on either side in case he felt like twisting it in his fingers, devilishly. And, he has a hard-to-pronounce (and often butchered) last name.
Meanwhile, Antonio Banderas acts as an additional enemy of Dolittle's, in the form of a heavily made-up King Rassouli. It sounded like every "bad guy" in the movie was putting on a fake voice, as if they took a lesson from Christian Bale's Batman and figured the only way to embody villain-esque darkness would be to talk in the deepest voices possible.
That being said, if you can look past the painfully childish moments, and cheesy, after-school-special messaging (like how the animals saved Dolittle as much as he saved them), then it’s honestly a fun ride.
Having Ralph Fiennes’s tiger Barry chasing a reflection of light the way pet cats chase after laser pointers is a bit of an obvious joke, but it plays nonetheless. And it’s far from the cutest moment in the film.
DOLITTLE breathes new life into the CGI-animals-in-a-live-action-movie style, after Disney’s The Lion King read a bit stiff, and left many fans disappointed. Also, if you thought you couldn’t stop talking about how adorable Tom Holland was before, just imagine him as a scruffy dog, admirably protecting a queen. It’s almost unbearable.
Would I pay $16 to see this in theaters? Probably not. But, I’m also a single millennial with no children. If you’re a fan of Robert Downey Jr., animals, absurd children’s movies, or all of the above, you’re sure to leave the theater with the warm and fuzzies.
All photos are courtesy of Universal Pictures.