“I bought a one way ticket to crazy town!”
Story: John Dolittle is a doctor and veterinarian of some renown, helping folks from farmers to the Queen herself. But when his beloved wife dies, he shuts down. Shuts down his practice, his emotions, and the walls to his glorious sanctuary. But fate has a way of sneaking in, in the form of two youngsters who need his help…
Genre I’d put it in: Family Friendly Modern Day Remakes Of Classic Lit
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the series of books by High Lofting. In no way linked to Eddie Murphy’s series of Dr. Dolittle films, though the “vet who talks to the animals” thing is the same. Supposedly a remake of the 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle, sans musical numbers, but this film is so, so much better.
Gotta say: I walked into this screening with no small amount of trepidation. I’d avoided the majority of the trailers, and while I love animals and RDJ, I still have nightmares over the hideous musical “interpretation” of Doctor Dolittle that used to play on local TV channels when I was a tyke. *shudders* So I’m happy to report that Dolittle is an absolute joy.
From the gloriously over-drenched color palate cinematographer Guillermo Navarro uses to draw viewers into this lighthearted confection, to the Danny Elfman score that hits all the right notes of whimsy, Dolittle knows its audience, and caters to children of all ages, and everyone who loves a bit of quirky fun. As the film starts, there’s a beautiful animated intro that serves as an exposition dump about the good doctor, the times he’s living in (with a “young queen” and everyone dressed in their finest 1800s attire, I’m guessing it’s an alternate reality based on the early Victorian Era), and his way with animals. Kudos to the animation crew, as it’s a wonderful way to get drawn into the story.
And what a story it is. Dolittle’s grumpy exterior hides a requisite softy marshmallowy center (a welcome change from Rex Harrison’s condescending blowhard), so when he hears that the Queen must be saved from those who currently surround her – including an pompously over-the-top Michael Sheen and underhandedly sly Jim Broadbent – the doctor is off to the races. Er, the magical island that may not actually be real. Just joking y’all; it’s totally real, because this is a fantasy for kids! And those two kids who needed is help come along for the ride, because of course they do.
Aaaaaaand of course there’s the roadblocks in the way. Dolittle must confront the mean spirited King Rassouli (played with wicked glee by Antonio Banderas) and the King’s equally mean spirited tiger (is there anything Ralph Fiennes can’t do?) But naturally they escape unharmed, until the next roadblock; a fire-breathing dragon (the delightful Frances de la Tour) with much more than a chip on her…shoulder. Don’t worry though. While not giving anything away, after the dragon’s spooky initial reveal, children will be absolutely delighted. Trust me.
The actors – both on screen and vocal – deliver performances so enjoyable I can’t help but feel the joy they had on screen/the mic. Most especially Emma Thompson as Dolittle’s parrot/aide de camp Polly, Jason Mantzoukas as James the (heartbroken) dragonfly, and Rami Malek as Chee-Chee the gorilla with esteem issues. The cast works well as an ensemble, with RDJ obviously stealing scenes with his ability to dominate any place he inhabits. But that’s okay, as he’s playing the title character. I especially enjoyed the onscreen chemistry he has with his younger co-stars Harry Collette (as the doc’s wannabe apprentice Tommy) and Carmel Laniado (as the Queen’s aide Lady Rose). Naturally there’s a spark between these two tweens, but the story rarely focuses on it, instead steering straight into uproarious adventure. Do things get a bit out of hand, and a little, um, effervescent? Does RDJ go absolutely batty with the way he strings together various English regional accents, sometimes combining several in one sentence? Yeah, sure. But, kids movie. It’s supposed to be a bit silly.
Dolittle manages to be adorable without becoming twee, exciting without becoming scary, and you should allow yourself to sink in wholeheartedly.
#Protip: Though Selena Gomez lends her voice to a giraffe in this film, the stunning song played over the end credits isn’t her work; it’s Sia, singing “Original”. Make sure you take a moment to give it a listen. You’ll be glad you did.