If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals.
Words made famous by Doctor Dolittle. Who doesn’t love Doctor Dolittle? He’s a character who dedicates his life to conversing with and helping animals. A timeless character brought to life by the likes of Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy. Well the year is 2020 and films that reimagine characters are still as popular as ever, so time for another crack at the character with Dolittle.
The film follows John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) in the titular role along with his animal companions as they return from isolating themselves from the world to find the fruit of the Eden Tree to save the dying Queen of England. However, their journey is made more challenging by rival doctor Blaire Mudfly (Michael Sheen) hot in pursuit. Who will reach the treasure first, and can they save the Queen before her demise at the solar eclipse? Seriously…
Visually, the film is bright and colourful to look at. It’s certainly not the greatest spectacle I’ve seen but it still invokes a sense of wonder, especially the shots of the Dolittle ranch. They open the film with an animation describing the life of Dolittle himself, which is really sweet and well made. While it doesn’t add a whole lot to the development of the film, it was the part of the film that I did find myself invested in most.
The story ranges from basic family adventure to fairly ludicrous. You know your in for something cliché when you hear the words ‘before the next lunar eclipse’. Why the eclipse affects the queen dying is beyond me. There are entertaining action scenes such as the boat chase, running into the palace, and the confrontation with a tiger, which when taken out of context are completely fine.
But enough of the niceties. Here’s the big question I have to ask: why did Robert Downey Jr. feel it right to speak with a Welsh accent?
The accent was bad. It drained almost all of the emotion and expression from RDJ’s performance. He forces the accent so much, that a lot of the delivery is really wispy and quiet. Don’t even get me started on the Welsh idioms!
If you can’t perfect the Welsh accent in terms of the pure expression it can convey, don’t try and attempt stereotypical phrases. It robs the scene of all sincerity when you have a character wake up after being saved and saying ‘fair play’ or ‘tidy’.
This isn’t even the only Welsh accent in the film, they also have the Whales that help them cross the ocean speak in Welsh accents too. Because Wales, Whales, get it? *sigh*
Seriously this was so utterly terrible that it’s a genuine offense against the Welsh Nationality.
It begs the question: why did he do it?
Reports suggest that it was in homage of a doctor from the 19th Century in Llantrisant. If this was done in homage, the man is surely spinning in his grave.
To his credit, it’s not as if he was the only bad actor in this film, because no one comes off well. The two child actors of Harry Collett and Carmen Laniado are wooden and unrealistic, but they’re forgivable. Michael Sheen is having a blast, an absolute hammy blast. He is the highlight of the film, but in any other film he would also not be considered good.
The other main appearances are not memorable. I love Jim Broadbent, but he’s given nothing to do as Lord Thomas Badgley (GET IT!?). While the sheer range of actors voicing the animals is incredibly impressive.
Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Finnes, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Craig Robinson, Selena Gomez: it’s a great list. However apart from Emma Thompson’s Polly (guess which animal she is), none of them really get any amazing moments (small ones granted, but there are so many of them that they compete with each other for attention).
They also get incredibly annoying. Great for kids and the row of elderly people sat behind me, but they grated on me fast.
Plus they make ducks seem like idiots. Ducks are awesome, leave ducks alone!
But largely ‘Dolittle’ suffers from significant pacing problems. They jump around so fast and cover different plot lines in very short time frames with no impacts on the film. Firstly, character dynamics are a bit confused.
Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) is constantly told to us that the animals like him, and that he is fit to be the apprentice of Dolittle, but we never see him interact with any animals (except for a squirrel, that he shot at the beginning of the film).
Characters with grudges forgive way too quickly, scenes end way too quickly, generally all of what would make the film interesting are just over too quickly.
‘Dolittle’ is a confusing mess. The lead performance is incredibly hard to look past, but when you do, you’re left with a film with little creativity or motivation for its existence which serves as little more than animal based entertainment for the family. A form of entertainment I might add, that is best achieved by a variety of other films. If I could talk to the animals, I’d tell them to avoid this film.