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There’s A Secret To Enjoying Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle

The character of Doctor John Dolittle is over 100 years old. First appearing in a series of children’s books by Hugh Lofting, he’s also made multiple appearances on the big screen. Each of those films enjoys the dubious distinction of being panned by the critics. That begs the question: why keep trying? Is this a character that’s just not meant for the big screen?

In Dolittle, Robery Downey Jr. portrays a doctor who can talk to animals. He has isolated himself after the death of his wife, living alone on his estate with the exception of animal companions. His solitude is interrupted when Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) knock on his door. Tommy has an injured squirrel, and after seeing Dolittle in action, he decides to become his apprentice. Lady Rose is there on behalf of the queen, who is sick with a mysterious illness.

After examining the queen, Dolittle determines she needs a cure that can only be found on a mythical island. Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen), Dolittle’s former schoolmate and rival, sets out to destroy Dolittle’s plans.

The film Dolittle was originally inspired by the book “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle”. In fact, the film was originally called The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle before the name was shortened. Other than having many of the same characters and a plot that involves a journey over water, the story is now entirely original.

The all-star cast and a healthy film budget give Dolittle all of the trappings of a blockbuster. There’s just one tiny problem. No one seems particularly excited about the film. And that is probably the best way to go into watching Dolittle: completely unexcited about it.

The animals in Dolittle serve as the narrator, in the case of Emma Thompson’s Polynesia, and as comic relief in literally every other case. Dolittle is not afraid to go for the cheap joke, from a dog mentioning he likes to sniff butts, to a severely gaseous dragon. Could the jokes have been better? Absolutely. Did they make me laugh? Absolutely. And that is the secret. I went to the theater expecting nothing and I got a cute little movie that delivered a few laughs. If I had walked in pumped up and excited, I would have been disappointed.

The costumes were fun, the CGI was solid, and the scenery was lovely. Will any of it win any awards? Probably not. Could Dolittle have been better? Absolutely. But it’s good enough…as long as you lower your expectations.

You can watch Dolittle in theaters on January 17, 2020.

About Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr. electrifies one of literature’s most enduring characters in a vivid reimagining of the classic tale of the man who could talk to animals: Dolittle.

After losing his wife (Kasia Smutniak) seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr. John Dolittle (Downey), famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company.

But when the young queen (Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures.

The doctor is joined on his quest by a young, self-appointed apprentice (Dunkirk’s Harry Collett) and a raucous coterie of animal friends, including an anxious gorilla (Oscar® winner Rami Malek), an enthusiastic but bird-brained duck (Oscar® winner Octavia Spencer), a bickering duo of a cynical ostrich (The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani) and an upbeat polar bear (John Cena, Bumblebee) and a headstrong parrot (Oscar® winner Emma Thompson), who serves as Dolittle’s most trusted advisor and confidante.

The film also stars Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen (The Queen), Oscar® winner Jim Broadbent and Carmen Laniado (FX’s A Christmas Carol) and voice performances from Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour, Jason Mantzoukas and Craig Robinson.

Directed by Academy Award® winner Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic), Dolittle is produced by Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum under their Roth/Kirschenbaum Films (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent) and Susan Downey (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Judge) for Team Downey. The screen story is by Thomas Shepherd and the screenplay is by Stephen Gaghan and Dan Gregor (CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) & Doug Mand (CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). The film is executive produced by Robert Downey Jr., Sarah Bradshaw (Last Christmas, Maleficent), Zachary Roth (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and Jonathan Liebesman (director, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Universal Pictures presents, in association with Perfect World Pictures, a Roth/Kirschenbaum Films/Team Downey production, a film by Stephen Gaghan: Dolittle.

As The Bunny Hops®