DOLITTLE gets 5/10 Animal Behaviour

Directed by Stephen Gaghan

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Martin Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek


This new adaptation of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle hardly walks with the animals, talks with the animals, or squawks with the animals. Even if there appears to be a lot of comical back-and-forths between the titular doctor and his furry, fuzzy friends, it adds up to very little of what the film is primarily offering: adventure and humour.

Traumatised by his wife’s death, eccentric Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr) has isolated himself within his large manor, surrounded only by his animal companions. But he’s lured out of his shut-in lifestyle when he’s instructed to venture to the island of Sumatra where he may find a cure for the poisoned Queen.

And so begins the journey of the Doctor and his animal pals, who are followed closely by the Queen’s assistant Dr. Blair Müdfly (Martin Sheen), who is trying to sabotage Dolittle for his own nefarious reasons. The human characters pinch a decent amount from superior franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean, with Downey playing out his restrained rapscallion charm like Jack Sparrow, and Sheen likewise playing out his own doctor character like any one of the uppity British sailors from that film franchise.

This film definitely aims primarily for a younger audience, particularly as much of it leads up to a big fart joke. The success of the film’s humour is sprinkled throughout, with some good banter mostly between the animal characters, but given how over-the-top most of them are in their own kid-friendly stereotypes, a lot of their dialogue and performances can get on your nerves. The restraint of Downey’s Dolittle, as if he’s not so sure about his first role after all those Marvel films, actually offsets much of the aggravating behaviour of the animals.

Many of the other supporting human characters are wasted on bland and completely underdeveloped roles, such as Dolittle’s protégé Tommy (Harry Collett) and Sumatra’s King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas). Amidst the mild adventure are the helping hands (or paws) from the animals, who are responsible for most of the funny and witty lines (though even they sometimes take otherwise amusing jokes and run them into the ground).

Dolittle fits comfortably as yet another of our yearly January “blockbuster” offerings that may just about mildly amuse families and kids, but for the kind of entertainment this audience usually craves, Dolittle does little.