Family-friendly ‘Dolittle’ does little to entertain older audience

Avery Wohleb

Trading in a suit of armor for a doctor’s coat, Robert Downey Jr. returns as a hero of a different breed in the latest installment of the family classic.

Directed by Stephen Gaghan, “Dolittle” is yet another film based upon the famous children’s book series “Doctor Dolittle.” The movie tells the story of John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), an extraordinary doctor with a talent for talking to animals. When the queen of England falls ill, Dolittle and his animals embark on a quest to find her a cure and save both her life and Dolittle’s beloved animal sanctuary, which is threatened to close if the queen succumbs to her illness.

Alongside a relatively straightforward narrative, the editing of the movie is subpar. With a $175 million budget, the distractingly bad CGI is a major issue. While certain animal characters are fun and pleasant to watch, others look as if they have been copied and pasted from a 50-year-old cartoon, rendering the overall cinematic experience unbalanced and inconsistent. 

Although the plot of the movie is engaging, the overall writing and production could be better. Many jokes throughout the film are bizarre and out of place, drawing little reaction from the audience. While there are many enjoyable moments that are sure to have children laughing, other jokes carry on for too long or are slightly uncomfortable. Several moments might leave viewers wondering whether the creators actually watched the film and truly enjoyed these jokes or if they blindly distributed the film to the world without a second thought. It’s hard to tell which would be worse. 

Bogged down by the overall production quality, the film is partially saved by an enjoyable and talented cast. RDJ, although inconsistent in his character’s accent, is transformed in his funny and captivating performance as Dolittle. Strange moments, such as Dolittle’s communication with animals from the perspective of an outsider who cannot hear animals, are successfully conveyed by RDJ’s convincing portrayal of such a unique and interesting character.

Other friendly voices bring a high energy to the film, highlighting entertaining moments that might have otherwise gone unnoticed in a different casting. Rami Malek brings vulnerability to the movie as a cowardly gorilla who learns courage along the way, and Tom Holland brings laughter as Dolittle’s adorable, glasses-wearing pet dog. 

Most pleasantly, the film gives a raw and honest portrayal of grief. When Dolittle’s wife tragically passes away, he succumbs to a reclusive lifestyle and shuts his animal sanctuary for many years. It is not until he is sent on a mission for the queen that Dolittle, aided by the encouragement of both human and animal friends, relearns who he is. A message is sent to a young audience about the importance of family, whether by blood or by choice, and the human nature and power of grief. 

While “Dolittle” is certainly far from perfect, overall, it achieves its ultimate goal of entertaining its target audience. Looking past small plot holes and scattered inconsistencies, most children are sure to enjoy the movie and have many laughs along the way. Talking animals promise to entertain, and even in an imperfect journey, they successfully do.

2 squirrels out of 5