Dolittle did a little too much!
By PRIYANKA LOONKER
Robert Downey, Jr. talks to the animals and hits a career-low in cinematic chaos that will leave children sad and confused, and adults scratching their heads. And really, what’s with the accent? I am pretty sure kids are not going to comprehend most of it.
“Dolittle” is mildly entertaining, silly and more than a little strange. It is loosely based on the original books, which also inspired the musical with Rex Harrison, featuring a two-headed llama-like creature called a pushmi-pullyu.
This version, set once again in the Victorian era, begins with a recluse Dolittle in the animal sanctuary given to him by the young queen in appreciation for his special gifts. Devastated by the death of his wife, a fearless explorer lost at sea, Dolittle is a mess, nothing better than the creatures living with him, until the arrival of two young people. A boy named Tommy (Harry Collett) who refuses to hunt with his father who accidentally wounds a squirrel and brings it to Dr. Dolittle for treatment. And Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who arrives with an urgent request. The queen is critically ill and wants to see him.
Dolittle operates on the squirrel but refuses Lady Rose’s request until he learns that if the queen dies he will lose his home, an unnecessarily sour and distracting detail. And so the animals shave his beard, trim his hair, make him bathe, and accompany him to the palace. There, after consulting a small squid in the queen’s aquarium, he learns that she has been poisoned by one of her courtiers (Jim Broadbent), with the help of the court physician, Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen).
They have various adventures along the way, including a halt at an island ruled by the semi-barbaric King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who immediately throws Dolittle in prison because they have a history.
The movie never finds the right balance between comedy, adventure, and heart. But it is still watchable due to the sumptuous and imaginative production design. Also fine are the bickering polar bear (John Cena) and ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), who find a way to become friends. Frances de la Tour provides the suitably imperious voice for a dragon and Ralph Feinnes is a surprisingly vulnerable lion. But my favorite was Jason Mantzoukas as the dragonfly.
PARENTS SHOULD KNOW that this film includes action/animal-related peril, attempted murder by poison, chases, crotch hits, a sad off-screen death, schoolyard language, and potty humor.
Family discussion: What did we learn about the characters when they talked about their parents? How did listening to the dragon make a difference? What should people do when they cannot stop feeling sad or being afraid of being hurt?