Dolittle (2020)

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writer: Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, Chris McKay
Based on: Hugh Lofting‘s books
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Carmel Laniado, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Kasia Smutniak, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour, Jason Mantzoukas
Seen on: 13.2.2020

Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) has a gift: he’s a veterinarian who can talk to the animals directly. But every since his wife (Kasia Smutniak) was lost at sea, he hasn’t worked anymore. This changes quickly, when he gets two visitors in a day: the first one is Tommy (Harry Collett) who brings in a hurt squirrel, and the second is Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who brings the news that the Queen (Jessie Buckley) may well be dying if Dolittle doesn’t help – and that would mean that he’d lose his entire estate. Forced from his isolation, Dolittle takes on the case – and Tommy makes sure to be part of it.

Dolittle has potential – Downey Jr. surrounded by animals voiced by a whole lot of excellent people? What can go wrong? A lot, apparently. Maybe this film should serve as a case study for that.

The film poster showing Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) surrounded by various animals.

I don’t even know where to start with this one. The “plot” that isn’t so much a story than a series of scenes that seem barely connected with each other? That it leads this merry band to a very white gazey, exoticized version of “somewhere in the Middle East or maybe North Africa” where Antonio Banderas is king and everyone is slightly barbaric? That it found it necessary to give Dolittle a tragically deceased wife (who at least got to be a cool adventurer)?

Or maybe, I should just leave the plot where it is – in chaos corner – and concentrate on the cast of characters. But I wouldn’t even know where to look there, either. Downey Jr.’s accent is a parody of itself and really distracting. Tommy is bland. There are too many animals to give any of them enough room, maybe with the exception of Kevin the squirrel (Craig Robinson) who gave us the inner monologue of a hardened spy shortly before his retirement and I loved it. But that’s pretty much the only joke that really works in the entire film.

Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) looks at Poly the Parrot (Emma Thompson).

The CGI animals are okay and I’m sure kids who see this film probably won’t mind the obviously fake look that comes with them. And they probably will laugh about some of the jokes that fell so very flat for me. But we had one advantage over the kids: we could bring alcohol to the cinema and drink whenever the film got too painful. There were definitely enough opportunities for that.

Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) and Tommy (Harry Collett) are sailing with a colorfil mix of animals.

Summarizing: Just… don’t.

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