DIR: Stephen Gaghan • WRI: Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, Chris McKay, Thomas Shepherd • DOP: Guillermo Navarro • ED: Craig Alpert • DES: Dominic Watkins • PRO: Susan Downey, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth • MUS: Danny Elfman • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen
He can walk with the animals. He can talk with animals. Hell, he can even sing with the animals. But can he be a hit in 2020? Yes, that’s right Dr. Dolittle returns to cinemas for the first time since Eddie Murphy hung up his stethoscope in 2002. Dolittle is armed with an A-Star cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and a budget of $175 million. In a couple of years, we’ll look back on this confused as to whether or not it actually happened because Dolittle is a bore that will struggle to entertain the youngest of audience members.
John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), the famous vet who can talk to animals, embarks on a grand adventure with his new apprentice (Harry Collett) and his crew of animals to find a cure for the Queen’s (Jessie Buckley) mysterious illness. On paper, the plot doesn’t seem bad. Dolittle finds a new lease of life following years of mourning the death of his wife. This should be an inspiring journey that teaches us all to keep going. That’s what Dolittle should have been. Unfortunately, this is a lifeless family adventure where you can guess exactly what’s going to happen next. There’s nothing of note to mention plot-wise. At no time during the film will you even consider that the heroes won’t achieve their mission. Everything you think will happen does happen. Besides the part where they save the day by pulling a bagpipe out of a Dragons ass. That is not a typo. The ending of Dolittle sees the crew come up against an angry dragon (Frances de la Tour). Said Dragon is angry due to having trapped wind that is cured by pulling a bagpipe out of its bottom. In retrospect it’s easy to see why I can’t remember anything about the plot, how can your mind not be disorientated by Robert Downey Jr. performing an enema on a dragon.
Considering how Iron Man launched the MCU which changed the landscape of cinema forever, Robert Downey Jr could play any role he wanted. For some reason, he wanted to play John Dolittle… a Welsh Dolittle mind you. RDJ’s accent is the thing of nightmares. It’s so bad that you begin to question if he’s ever heard a Welsh person talk. Does Robert Downey Jr. have Welsh friends that sound like this? Did his vocal coach play a horrific prank on him? I need answers now goddamnit. Accent aside, John Dolittle isn’t a likeable character. He’s mean to children, a smug know it all and, for a man who can talk to animals, he doesn’t seem all too interested in talking to animals. It’s a huge embarrassment for RDJ, who just last year hung up his Iron Man suit. It begs the question, can he be successful after his time in the MCU. Let’s not forget that he’s a tremendously talented actor, but there’s no getting past this misfire. Looking at the box office for Dolittle no one will want to place him as their lead in a blockbuster again any time soon. Don’t be surprised if we see Iron Man resurrected in five years.
As with any film that features talking animals, Dolittle cast is stacked with stars lending their voices to the cause. However, not one animal in the film has any story. They are all just kind of there. Rami Malek is a nervous Gorilla who hugs his blanket. John Cena is a polar bear who wears a hat while shouting inspirational dialogue like “Teamwork makes the dream work!”. Emma Thompson is a parrot who narrates to simplify the already simple plot. Octavia Spencer is a duck who is idiotic beyond belief. Tom Holland is a dog called Jip for five minutes before the film writes him off so he could film Far from Home. Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard also record for five minutes before running off with their cheques. If none of the actors care then why should you? I’m convinced that none of the voice actors know that they’re even in this movie. I believe that director Stephen Gaghan edited together clips from different celebrity’s interviews so he could try and bring some form of life to this dire film.
Director Stephen Gaghan has had a mighty fall from grace considering he won an Oscar for his screenwriting for Syriana. Up until this Gaghan had only made heavy dramas for adults. What in the world convinced him that he was the right man for a CGI-fuelled Dr. Dolittle reboot? Behind the scenes Gaghan reportedly went off the rails, filming scenes before deciding what animals would be edited into the scenes. When watching the film these reports feel extremely accurate considering that Dolittle is facing away from the animals in 70% of his scenes. The paper-thin script was written by four different people who presumably all took turns adding wacky one-liners to try to make the runtime feature-length. From a technical perspective, the film is hideous. The CGI animals are hideous, not a single one of them feels real. During the scarce action sequences, it’s clear for the world to see that a green screen was heavily used in production. Had Cats not been released a month prior then Stephen Gaghan would be receiving Tom Hooper levels of criticism. At least Hooper tried to do something different. Gaghan’s direction is scarily poor.
Do yourself a favour and run far away from Dolittle. The best thing for everyone is to pretend that this never happened. Robert Downey Jr. can act like he hasn’t been in anything since Endgame. The A-list voice cast can delete it off their CV’s. Stephen Gaghan can go back to directing dramas. Most importantly, I and anyone else who saw Dolittle can erase this from our memories. A dragon and a bagpipe will never be connected again. The world will be all the better for it.
Liam De Brun
PG (see IFCO for details)
Dolittle is released 7th February 2020