MOVIE REVIEW: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

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What We Learned This Week: July 9-15

LESSON #1: CAESAR FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES PREQUEL TRILOGY WILL GO DOWN AS ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTERS IN MOVIE HISTORY— It’s really something when the course of three post-apocalyptic films about one version of mankind’s demise can make us root for the apes over the humans.  War for the Planet of the Apes elevates an already incredible series to soaring new gravitas and it’s all thanks to Caesar.  I really enjoyed this Movie Pilot article spelling out the character’s evolution with revolutionary, tragic, and even biblical tones.  Give it a read.  Speaking of Caesar…

LESSON #2: ANDY SERKIS DESERVES AN ACADEMY AWARD— It’s time to recognize the imperative greatness happening before our eyes and under performance capture special effects.  Andy Serkis has taken the potential of performance capture technology and turned it into precision of unparalleled heights.  What he does on the set, through voice, posture, body language, and stunt work supersede how good the finished topical effects turn out.  If he doesn’t qualify as a Best Actor Academy Award contender then it’s time to go a step further with a Special Achievement Oscar.  This is true performance taken to another level.

LESSON #3: SO DOES KUMAIL NANJIANI…— Comedy has long gotten the short straw at the Academy Awards.  In my opinion, having separate comedy and drama categories is one thing the abysmal Golden Globe Awards gets right.  Kumail Nanjiani’s  commitment to bare his soul in The Big Sick and reconstruct a difficult time in his life for unlimited and unflinching humor is downright extraordinary.  The comedian strikes upon a level of mammoth heart and monumental charm that isn’t matched in the efforts of mainstream comedy actors of today, men with names like Ferrell, Sandler, Rogen, and Hart.  His juggling of comedy and drama with equal levels of confidence is Oscar-worthy.

LESSON #4: DIRECTOR MATT REEVES IS GOING TO MAKE A HELL OF A BATMAN MOVIE— If Reeves’ sense of epic scope combined with weighty dramatic importance in the second two Planet of the Apes prequels are any indication, Ben Affleck is going to have to buckle up and raise his game.  Word around the campfire is Matt Reeves wants a detective-centered The Batman, an under-emphasized core trait of the Caped Crusader’s previous film incarnations, and has shelved Affleck’s script to start anew.  I’m all for it.  Give that man carte blanche to make it great his way.

LESSON #5: WONDER WOMAN IS DOING SPECIAL THINGS AT THE BOX OFFICE— The Hollywood Reporter recently discussed the box office earnings data for Wonder Woman now that it has crossed into its second month of steam.  As it turns out, the DCEU winner is boasting the best hold of any superhero film in more than 15 years.  At its current pace, it will pass Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week as the top-grossing film of the 2017 summer.  If the blockbuster keeps on chugging, it will flirt with $400 million at the domestic North American box office.   That’s rarefied air and it couldn’t go to a more deserving film.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.