2.5 out of 5 stars
Doctor Dolittle has been a part of literature since 1923 and first came to cinemas in the 1960’s with the musical version starring Rex Harrison in the lead role. Hugh Lofting wrote 13 novels with his title character taking adventures around the world with his animal friends. After Eddie Murphy’s time in the quirky part of the doctor who talks to animals, writer/director Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) got ahold of the famous children’s character and takes it back to its origins in Victoria England.
During the time of Queen Victoria’s (Jessie Buckley) rule in the world, John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) had the reputation as being the best doctor and veterinarian of this era. The doctor rises to fame because of his gift to speak to all animal species, which gives him the ability to quickly diagnose the problems in the creatures' lives. This unique skill wins him the favour of the queen, who gifts him Dolittle Manor for the sake of developing a menagerie for all types of animals who suffer from specific ailments or harbour unique talents. John works with his wife, Lily (Kasia Smutniak) to care for their patients and travel the world to discover new remedies for their practice.
When Lily goes on a solo journey to find the mythical island of Sumatra, she perishes in her attempt. Upon losing the love of his life, the doctor closes the doors of the manor and goes into hiding. After seven years in seclusion, the queen becomes ill with a deadly affliction that can only be cured by finding Sumatra and obtaining the fruit of Eden. He goes on his voyage with a few of his most talented and trusted creatures and he reluctantly takes on an assistant, the young Tom Stubbins (Harry Collett). This odd crew race against time to save the life of the queen, while staying ahead of the diabolical Doctor Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen) who is trying to stop them from getting to the elusive tree of life.
Keep in mind that this is a tale based on a doctor who speaks to animals. This is a film for those willing to suspend disbelief in the laws of nature and solid storytelling. Stephen Gaghan’s script looks to capitalise on the novelty factor of the animals speaking as opposed to maintaining a logical timeline. The voice cast is top drawer with Emma Thompson, Tom Holland and Ralph Fiennes lending their talents to the film, but with the multiple characters, it is hard to determine who is who.
For the fans of Robert Downey Jr. and his roles as Ironman and Sherlock Holmes, this seems to be a project that sidesteps his two iconic characters and taps into the unusual nature of his persona. The whole experience is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and it makes sense why it was dumped into the black hole of January. A perfect choice for families who are looking for a forgettable journey of escapism that children will enjoy and parents can take comfort in the safe nature of the story.
What should parents know about Dolittle? This is not groundbreaking cinema, but it will prove to be a fun option for families to enjoy together. Children will be laughing in the aisles at the various animals and the bizarre antics of Doctor Dolittle. There are elements of grief and attempted murder that may need some discussion afterwards. In the end, the film serves as an excuse to get the kids out of the house over the weekend.
Reel Dialogue: We all handle grief differently
Death is one of the certainties of life, but we all respond differently when confronted with it. Fortunately, God does not leave people without an answer during these times of grief. He is a God who can indeed weep with those who are mourning, because his Son died, too. He is near to the brokenhearted and can provide hope during a time that will inevitably affect everyone in one way or another.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18