Review: ‘Dolittle,’ Is It A Kid Movie That Adults Will Enjoy?
I've got two words that describe Dolittle: "Mindless" and "Numbing." That's how I felt leaving the theater amongst quiet kids who didn't seem to love it.
“Dolittle” is being billed as an epic adventure starring Robert Downey Jr and what seems like most of Hollywood in voice acting roles as talking animals. Like most films of the genre “Dolittle” is targeted for kids, and with that it’s crucial for the film to also have cross-over adult appeal to have financial success.
Universal and Downey’s own production company is banking on that appeal.
Movie Choices for Families
There may even be a few other kid friendly movies playing in second tier theaters.
So does “Dolittle” hold up for parents and will kids even like it?
The Story: Dolittle has become a heartbroken recluse hiding inside of a luxe compound surrounded only by his animal companions. Living on the estate, and only at the whim of the Queen of England, Dolittle is given the grave news, by a young girl named Lady Rose, that the Queen is ill.
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Without the Queen’s support he will lose the safe haven he has created for his menagerie of animals so he begrudgingly leaves his home to investigate what is wrong with the Queen.
After determining that she needs an elusive cure that can only be found from a mysterious tree on a hidden island, Dolittle takes off with his band of animals aboard a ship in search of the cure.
The Good, The Bad, and The Way Too Ugly
The Good: Sharing what’s good about this film is going to be super easy. That’s because there are only a few things.
First, Robert Downey Jr. did not come across as Tony Stark talking to animals. He didn’t even seem to be a version of something you would expect to see from Johnny Depp in a pirate movie or Willy Wonka though those characters do come to mind when comparing the performance but more of that below.
Antonio Banderas has a small role as King Rassouli that was compelling. And Michael Sheen plays the protagonist as Dr. Blair Müdfly. Both had worthwhile roles that they made interesting with their performances even though the characters were barely two dimensional (which isn’t saying much).
Stretching it a bit here but the music and costumes were decent. A young actor named Harry Collett (Dunkirk) who plays a kid that wants to be Dolittle’s apprentice was surprisingly well acted despite the many issues with this film.
The Bad: Where to begin? In fairness, this film has to be watched through the eyes of a kid. Good thing the film was screened in a theater full of them so I could gauge their reactions.
Was it funny? The simple answer is absolutely no. Almost every joke targeted at kids got little to no reaction and as an adult I was underwhelmed.
The film moves along at a fast pace which did a good job of holding the kids’ attention spans, but from a story standpoint it leaves every character that could possibly be developed in the dust. So rather than having three dimensional characters, or even two, you get a story filled with characters that look cool, but say and do things that make no sense. Nor do you even care.
On top of that, beware your eyes crossing and possible headache formation because there is so much zany gallivanting taking place on the screen for no apparent story reason. The film devolves into a hot mess with meaningless banter taking place between the doctor and animals (that have back stories that we never get – major problem).
However, there was a scene that got a reaction from adults and kids alike.
There’s a dragon and it’s constipated. Butt jokes and fart jokes… work every time. Except when they don’t work. Kids laughed, parents looked confused and grossed out. The whole dragon scenario will have you scratching your head afterwards.
The story seems to work at first. It’s going to be a journey, and there’s going to be talking animals including a gorilla, a polar bear, an ostrich, and more. Ok, we get that, but even so, it’s too long, boring, not funny, and the CGI is nauseating.
The relationship between the two characters never makes any sense. Was it poor writing or were scenes cut from the final version?
The WAY TOO UGLY: Robert Downey Jr. is an excellent actor. However, he’s also one of many producers on this film.
Someone at the top needs to take the blame for this awful version of “Dolittle” and I get the feeling that naysayers were possibly shut down because of the sheer volume of “A listers” who participated in creating this fiasco with Downey. His producer wife being at the top as both are listed as producers.
A notable miss is the creepy Carmel Laniado who plays the woodenly acted Lady Rose (a teenager) whose character was strange and never developed. As an example, why would the Queen use a young girl to go get Dr. Dolittle and why is she wearing gloves all the time and talking like a marionette? She has an awkward relationship with Dolittle’s apprentice that never makes any sense because there is little screen time and no story devoted to her. I am going to guess that whatever they shot was scrapped as her performance is awful.
This film overall is a hot mess and lives up to the well-known fact that films that open in January are a dumping ground of utter crap. The slapstick shenanigans that the animals get themselves into, and then Dolittle’s reaction wasn’t cute nor funny.
Downey’s accent was a mess throughout. At one point he goes from a British (somewhat) accent to a Caribbean or Jamaican British accent when he gets on the boat. There is just something really off about the Dolittle performance. The character is being played as brazenly bizarre but even so, the way in which Downey chose to perform Dolittle, with lots of overt physical movement, wide expressions (which isn’t a bad thing for a kids movie necessarily), didn’t sync right with the tone of the film. I’ve hardly ever come across such a miss in a film of this potential caliber.
Additionally, “Dolittle” has half of Hollywood’s “A list” in it playing talking animals. So, when you have someone in your film, you need to give them a role, even if the role makes no sense, or doesn’t move the story forward, or is just plain dumb. This film is full of bloated speaking roles for friends of the actor/producer that added absolutely nothing to the story or performances since every character is utterly forgettable the moment you leave. The list of “A listers” is way too long to cover here but includes Tom Holland (Spiderman), Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, and many, many more.
Verdict: I’ve got two words that describe this film: “Mindless” and “Numbing.” That’s how I felt as I left the theater amongst a bunch of quiet and shuffling kids who didn’t seem to love it.
My pseudo kid critic that I brought along shared that the film was “good. ” I asked why. She said it was “adventurous,” and she also looked shell shocked.
Bottom line, wait for it to be on-demand or go to a theater that serves alcohol to numb the pain.
There are far better choices this weekend. Prediction, this film is going to BOMB! The sheer volume of CGI and way too many over-the-top animal characters maxed out the screen over-shadowing the possibility of humor and a worthwhile story that never achieves lift off in any sense.