Dolittle Review: It’s a Zoo

Dolittle is the story of renown, if not eccentric, physician Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey, Jr.). whom holds a proud reputation of working with and talking to animals. In recent years, Dolittle has retreated into the shadows of his sanctuary—a custom-built habitat suitable for creatures of all shapes and sizes with one simple rule: no humans allowed. When the Queen of England falls gravely ill, she calls for Dolittle’s assistance in finding a cure for her ailment. The good doctor reluctantly accepts and sets off on an adventure with several of his animal friends and a young boy who dreams of being Dolittle’s apprentice.

What works in Dolittle is the physical humor and the action sequences meant to entertain younger audience members. The computer-generated animal companions are convincing enough that their pratfalls are likely to elicit giggles from kids as they watch birds, bears, and gorillas all get into mischief. A chase at sea is particularly exciting and manages to showcase one of the film’s cleverer moments. In terms of keeping little ones engaged for an hour and forty-five minutes, Dolittle certainly succeeds.

Audiences who dislike films that feel disjointed or lack a cohesive tone may not enjoy Dolittle as much as others. As the title character, Downey is all over the place. His temperament ranges from curmudgeon to paternal at the drop of a top hat, with mood swings that are as consistent as his odd accent. Dolittle also lacks a particularly interesting narrative arc. It’s clear the message wants to be about how all people need other people in their lives, but how this transformation happens in between Downey’s facial contortions and animal mimicry is a bit of a mystery.

RELATED: Dolittle Trailer: Robert Downey Jr Talks To The Animals

Surrounding the animal-whisperer is a cadre of hollow cliches including a rival clad in black suit with black goatee (Michael Sheen), a young boy without parents who absconds with Dolittle without word or warning (Harry Collet), and even an old English man who is “secretly” the mastermind behind it all (Jim Broadbent). The animal voice actors are perfectly serviceable (John Cena and Kumali Nanjiani are notably strong), but the majority of the jokes are fairly obvious and while kids may occasionally guffaw, the puns and one-liners are going to get smirks at best from older patrons.  Finding the balance between heart, comedy, and drama in Dolittle may have been a challenge for the filmmakers.

Dolittle is a fine film for a rainy day at the theater for the family, but enjoyment levels are likely to vary by age. There were probably some good ideas regarding execution, but the end result feels rather jumbled and lacking a unified vision.

Recommended if you enjoyed: Ice Age (series), Sing, Dr. Dolittle (2002)

FINAL GRADE: C

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Fox Troilo

Fox serves as an entertainment journalist in the Washington, D.C. When not covering cinematic news for LRM, he critiques films as a member of the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Fox also has a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Strategy from Indiana University Bloomington.

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