I think as a child I knew *of* Dr. Dolittle, but I really cannot remember anything with the character itself. I mean I know I knew the Rex Harrison movie from 1967, which apparently was written by the lyrcisist (Leslie Bricusse) for one my favourite musicals ever and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one). I don’t think I ever read, and I know they were never read to me, the original stories from the 1920’s, but the concept of people talking to animals was always tied to this character “Doctor Dolittle”. We are not discussing the 1998 Eddie Murphy movie or its four sequels. Ever. That said, the concept of this character does seem pretty eternal and I don’t think there’s a child alive, or child at heart, who didn’t wonder about talking to animals. So when this trailer dropped, I was curious to say the least.
So should you go on a journey?
As mentioned, this character is based on a series of shorts by Hugh Lofting in the 1920’s and this particular iteration has a screenstory credit, and three screenplay credits. Usually a dangerous thing. The screenstory is by Thomas Shepherd, in his first cinematic body of work, and I don’t know the character or stories well enough to tell how his work is there. Two of the other credits go to Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (How I Met your Mother), who based on that shows success have a knack for comedy bits. Then we have our third screenplay credit, which is also our director, Stephen Gaghan, who worked on films like Traffic, Abandon, and Syriana. Clearly an obvious choice for a children’s movie about a man who talks to animals. Yet it worked. If you were to ask me to get technical, the movie is both rushed and slow in its script and pacing. It feels as if it rushes to get to the moment of wonder – and there are many – and then languishes between them before you are given the next. Despite it’s “period-ish” set pieces and existence, the dialogue from many in the cast is rather modern and may date the movie some in coming years. I have a feeling these were more adlibs than actual script. I hope they were anyway.
What amazed me most wasn’t the animals or even the adventure, but the setup. In an opening reminiscent of UP we are introduced to the character and his past deeds for Queen, Country, and Animals alike. THEN the movie begins. A fetch quest to get the McGuffin, to do the thing, against impossible odds, and enemies abound. A heroes journey that you see one beginning and the bottom of another. The movie checks most of the fantasy boxes and is proud of itself in doing so. It does have a right to be. True, its a mixed bag of characterizations and odd choices, but the emotional core of the movie never falters and I will take what is offered.
Characters themselves? The actors behind them. So bloody many. You have Robert Downey Jr. acting his heart out and reminding us he can be so much more than a man in a suit of iron. Sure everyone else I am about to list is fine, but RDJ and the accent he affects have to carry the movie. We count ourselves lucky he can do it and then some. I want to re-title this character “The Anti Toxic Masuclinity Hero” because it’s there and he does it so well. Michael Sheen is a hoot as the blatantly cartoonish Dr. Blair Müdfly, with the umlaut. I always like this man when he is having fun and it appears the direction he was given was to have fun. Then we have the last of our live actors of significance, with Harry Collett as Stubbins who does his best to shine with RDJ and the voice cast and doesn’t do too shabby a job. This isn’t to say he’s successful really, because the voice cast of animals of like a who’s who of personalities, with Emma Thompson (Brave, Harry Potter), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot) , John Cena (Bumblebee) , Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Silicon Valley), Octavia Spence (The Help, Hidden Figures), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindlers List), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotilliard (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and more. If I was having to say this outloud on my new Youtube channel, I’d be out of breath. It is awesome that we have all these talented actors in this movie, but they are all vying for their moment and thankfully it works out mostly. This is part of what I am sure other reviewers will complain about. This is a very busy movie with characters and it doesn’t work to the movies credit as much as it could or should. It almost, almost detracts for me, but what keeps that from happening is its, to use modern meme language, Pure.
Technically it’s fine. The CG work on the animals works well enough and is A grade, but still CGI. It’s so present though you forget about it and just see another character. I will also give technical props for what I can only see as a jab at 2019 Lion King and emotionless lion cubs. I looked to the member of my Dark Court with me tonight and we both giggled when the little lion cub emoted better than all the animals in that other movie combined. The editing is…a choice. It’s not something I was particularly fond of and again will be a detractor for many.
The trailer grabbed my attention and I don’t want to say the trailer lied, but it did – a bit. It showed something a bit more dramatic and intense then what was actually delivered. This is truly the first family movie of the year. I mentioned in the full review how the movie felt pure, or genuine and it does. Whether it is or not is another story, but this doesn’t feel like a cash grab. I couldn’t help but feel good watching this movie. I laughed quite a bit and that felt good too.
So I suppose this isn’t just the first family movie of the year, but the first movie that makes you feel good watching it. It’s a sense of escapism at its best, where for just over 90 minutes you are transported to a world where we can talk to animals if we listen and we can solve problems without hurting people. Surprising coming from the Vampire Princess, but even I like to feel good from time to time and don’t need everything to be explosions and darkness. This movie is a very strong response to Toxic Masculinity and we need that. Need it more than ever.
Should I see it then?
Yeah I think you should. Take the partner, take the kids, take other people’s kids. People you know sheesh! This is a good little romp for really all ages.
Would you see it again then?
As always, you buying.
Unlikely, but I will assume you are buying it?
Yes. Yes I am. This is one of those soft movies I can put on when the spoons run out and I can’t even muscle the knives. This is The Great British Bake Off of movies. This is going to be a helluva year and having this in my collection will give me a bit of good to watch from time to time come May.
But is it good?
Ok trying to pin me down I see. I don’t necessarily think so. I do think it hit my Three Writer Rule, I think the adlibs were clear, I do think its a bit slap dash with the editing. Not everything enjoyable has to be good. This isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure, this just is fun and warm. Its comfort food. I think it, without seeing the other here, will be a better film than Bad Boys 3. No I won’t be seeing Bad Boys 3, it just didn’t look good and the humor looked as if it should have died with the franchise a seventeen years ago.
Alright, so January. Bad releases normally…got anything else coming?
I love Mackenzie Davis, but I am not sold on The Turning, so unlikely something next week.
The following week you may get two movies with The Rhythm Section and Gretel & Hansel.