Hugh Lofting’s tale of a doctor who can “talk to the animals” hits our screens again. So, how does Robert Downey Jr go following in the paw-steps of Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy in Dolittle?
In this incarnation, for services rendered, Dr John Dolittle is given use of a massive estate for he, his wife and a menagerie of his ex-patients – ranging all the way size-wise from stick insects to elephants – to frolic about in. But, when his adventurer wife is lost at sea, presumed dead, the good doctor enters a funk that sees him shutting off himself, and the estate, to the world.
Meanwhile, forced on a hunting expedition by his uncle, young Tommy Stubbins accidentally fills a squirrel with lead while doing his best to miss shooting a duck. Mortified, and wishing to make amends, he’s led to the Dolittle estate by a talking parrot. At much the same time, a representative of the gravely ill Queen Victoria also lobs at the fortress, requiring the attendance of Dolittle at her bedside. But he’s having none of it.
Perhaps it will take a bunch of talking animals to bring him around?
Dolittle is an all-the-family film that comes across much like a collision of The Pirates of the Caribbean with Night at the Museum, but without quite capturing the magic of either.
It isn’t that it’s a poor family outing, however Dolittle does deliver several oddities as it careens headlong towards its rather rushed conclusion.
The most prominent of these is Downey Jr’s accent. Sounding like a camp Tom Jones, he lets loose a preposterous Welsh accent that we found alarmingly distracting. We didn’t expect him to go all Iron Man on our behinds, but we’re not convinced that this vocal choice works particularly well.
Meanwhile, the animals get all the best lines – as they should, considering the voice cast boasts the likes of Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, John Cena, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Craig Robinson and Selena Gomez. But while the film is set in the Victorian era, this lot spend much of their time prattling away like they’re straight off the modern-day streets of New York. It is a tad incongruous.
Still, it’s all about feeding young attention spans, and Dolittle rarely stops for breath, with some very enjoyable big-action set pieces along the way. Much of the story may feel hurried, and many arcs either wrap up speedily in alarmingly neat little packages, or are just left hanging, but ultimately it’s all a good-hearted romp that those after a genuinely family-friendly film outing are sure to lap up.
In cinemas: January 16, 2020
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan