Directed By Stephen Gaghan
Starring – Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen
The Plot – After losing his wife seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr. John Dolittle (Downey Jr.), famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company. But when the young queen (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures.
Rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief adult language
– Radiating heart. It would be simple for this film to fall under the misguidance of the same slapstick humor and emptiness in depth that doomed the Eddie Murphy-led installment, but Gaghan and screenwriter Dan Gregor instill an ample amount of sentimentality to the character that sees him in a new light. Long gone is the bumbling goof often tripped over his own feet, and is instead exchanged for a doctor who is every bit intelligent as he is sophisticated in the way he approaches each pivotal case. Aside from this, the film’s intro deposits a layer of regret for the character that not only plays into the importance of the film’s central plot, but also establishes a layer of melancholy for Downey, which plays just below the surface, and further enhances his likeability for an audience with pre-conceived notions of the character going into the film.
– Infinite cast. In also preserving a rebirth for the franchise, the decision to craft it with four Oscar winners, as well as three Oscar nominees, is something that translates efficiently in the film’s many dream match interactions that we simply can’t get enough of. Downey continues his level of professionalism, that makes him one of the last in a line of committed actors, regardless of the role. His endless charm and British accent transform in completely different ways than we’re used to for Tony Stark, and prove that he takes ample diversity in approaching each character he plays with respect for the property. Likewise, Sheen is also a shining example, having the time of his life as the film’s prime antagonist to Dolittle’s shenanigans. Michael’s smile never fades regardless of the heat of the scene, and brings out the childlike imagination in him that we have yet to see from his growing filmography. The vocal performances are also aplenty, but my favorites are from Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, and even Tony Stark’s own sidekick Tom Holland stealing a few scenes from his Avengers teammate.
– A new direction. As to where previous Dolittle films were comedy-first genre offerings, this 2020 version seems to incorporate an equally balancing side of action and adventure, which really helps push the narrative along its 90 minute run time. Because of such, “Dolittle” feels like a spin-off that takes place within the “Pirates of the Caribbean” world, taking the character back to its literary roots towards a big screen realization that constantly feels full of stakes and enveloping vulnerability. Sure, the humor is still there, but the desired ambition in taking this character and his furry friends to colonies they’ve never been is one that pays off immensely in their adaptability towards such, and at times feels a little daring in dialogue and peril against its established PG rating.
– Wonderous musical score. Acclaimed composer Danny Elfman returns to maestro another kids property once more, and what he does with “Dolittle” is nothing short of triumphant for the scenes it enhances. Built in tow with a three-piece orchestra whose volume allowance constantly allows their presence to be felt in each scene, Elfman commands a series of riveting compositions that cement an air of big budget ballooning from the presentation, giving us inspiration in the form audible immensity. Elfman obviously takes an influence from Randy Newman’s work on the 1967 original film, channeling some of the similar notes that Randy made familiar, all the while remixing them in a way that breathes smoothly with today’s technological advancements in sound mixing. It’s loud and boisterous, but for all of the right reasons when played against the action emanating in each visual frame.
– Immersive wardrobe design. Definitely the very early favorite for best costume design in a film, as the three-piece threads and free-flowing gowns visually crafted a cementation in time placement that the film unfortunately didn’t establish. The interior designs play a cohesive part in enhancing the pageantry of such, as the blandness in color design and overall cinematography for the film better help the intoxication of colors that characters are bringing to the forefront, making them stand out more naturally beautiful than a conventional production would typically convey. It’s always a benefit when a film doesn’t require an established setting to get its point across, instead allowing the vibrancy of the elements surrounding it to play itself as a character within the film, and this obvious alluding plays into the legend of the narrative, in that we’re watching something that has already happened.
– Gorgeous photography. If an eclectic range or creatures and civilized Englishmen doesn’t do it for you, the capture of some gorgeous Cambria landscapes most certainly will. The sunsets feel infinite, thanks in part to the 1.85 aspect ratio that the entirety of the movie is shot on, and the vast array of colorful landscapes bring forth a therapeutic serenity to the land of the animals, which stretch as far as the eyes can see. In addition, the computer generated instances of important landscapes within the film are illustrated naturally to convey believability within the frame, and done so well that I often questioned what is in fact real or artificial. If nothing else, this is a beautifully shot film, full of such warmth and vibrancy, that doubles down on the film’s family heartfelt capacity, and really makes it one of the more alluring experiences in children’s cinema.
– Grounded screenplay. Even at 90 minutes, this film has pacing issues particularly during the second act, where its one setting dominance finally catches up to the overall pacing of the film. Our characters spend roughly 40 minutes of this film on a boat towards their next adventure, and while the interaction is nice periodically, it does feel delayed and even stretched out to the point that this feels like a drastic recut of the script from what it originally was. What further cements that idea is the lack of questions answered in the film, like why an animal doctor is sent to help the queen in the first place? or why is this boy sidekick needed at all in the plot? Subplots within the context of the screen are introduced and then never fully elaborated on or realized, and there’s times towards the finish line of the film where the movie feels like a disjointed mess that takes far too much momentum down with it along the way.
– Humor problems. The movie does feature some intriguing sight gags and clever dialogue punchlines that did generate a chuckle or two out of me during the film, but the main problem with the film’s humor is two-fold. First, it ignores toeing the line between adult and human, to give them both a good time, and instead caters exclusively to the latter. This means everything from goofy noises to fart jokes are included in a film that tries to establish this as the new classier side of the Dolittle character. Secondly, the dialogue is mumbled not only with this English accent that is so authentic to a fault in what we’re understanding, but also feels rushed in direction, which at times forces us to miss meaningful punchlines that would probably make a difference in our interpretations of the humor level. It’s not the worst comedy of the year, or even of the month (See Like a Boss review), but it definitely takes the backseat to the ambition that is the adventure within the movie.
– Special effects. This is 50/50 for me, as the texture and coloring of the animal designs for the movie were superb, especially for a throwaway January movie that people more than likely won’t remember two months down the line. My problem comes in their movements, as well as the expressionalism on their faces, which similar to 2019’s “The Lion King”, still feels like a problem for post-production Hollywood. If these characters are standing still, their likenesses feel rich with authenticity, but when asked to run or climb a mountain, it’s clearly evident that their lack of weight isn’t influencing the properties that they are supposedly interacting with. Similarly, their physical movements felt hollow and artificial with what we’ve seen and experienced from their same species.
– Third act movements. To say that I hated almost the entirety of the third act is an understatement. The movie takes 70 minutes building two different oppositions, who are both strong in their own respective elements, and then are resolved in a way that renders them completely pointless with where the film’s final conflict headed. In that regard, the only thing left is this conflict with a dragon that is introduced out of nowhere, and then resolved in a way that not only makes no sense based on that animal’s logistics, but also makes everything previous to it feel so pointless because of what it took to finish it all. It’s a stain on an otherwise harmless kids movie, and truly makes me wonder what kind of film this was before the 22 days of reshoots took place.
My Grade: 6/10 or C