DIRECTOR: STEPHEN GAGHAN | SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN GAGHAN, DAN GREGOR, DOUG MAND & CHRIS MCKAY | STARRING: ROBERT DOWNEY JR., HARRY COLLETT, CARMEL LANIADO, ANTONIO BANDERAS, MICHAEL SHEEN | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
If you could walk with the animals, talk with the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals, then a film like Dolittle would have little reason to exist. What a tragedy it is then that we cannot talk, walk or squawk with the animals and it is left to films like this to fill the imagination-riddled void where that ability might otherwise be found. Following The Lion King remake last year, this is the latest film to push CGI over a comfortable limit and create something woefully lifeless. Combined with some strange narrative choices, it makes for an experience that leaves you praying for a mass extinction.
Dolittle (Downey Jr.) is an estranged, grieving recluse who prefers to spend time talking to his animals rather than with people. That all changes with the sudden arrival of Lady Rose (Laniado), who informs Dolittle that he will lose his animals and his home unless he saves the Queen of England from impending death. Joined by the kind-hearted but bumbling child Stubbins (Collett), Dolittle sets out on an arduous quest that takes far too long to build itself up and then plunges headfirst into a badly rushed conclusion.
Downey Jr. never once captures Dolittle’s anguish, genius, or passion, instead fumbling around with a wavering Welsh accent matched only by the outlandish cinematography. Most fatally of all, however, not once do you really believe in the animals he shares his world with. The cast is sensational - Rami Malek as a nervous gorilla, Ralph Fiennes as a tiger with a grudge, the list goes on - but they all feel wasted. Only Malek’s character is given any real spark between himself and Dolittle, and it is but a fleeting relief in an otherwise soulless experience. Not helping are some caricatured excuses of characters, Michael Sheen’s villain being one of them, and some running jokes that just never find purchase. Even Eddie Murphy pulled it all off better than this.
There is a big difference between making a film for children and a film for a family. Dolittle opts for the former, and childish humour ensues - shoving a leek up a dragon’s arse, for example. It always feels silly, pointless and without obvious direction. The only enchanting ingredient is the brief animated opening, and you can’t help but wonder if the whole film could have been enriched if it made use of that beautiful animation style.
Dolittle at times borders on the unforgivingly terrible. All the magic ingredients were there, yet the end result is empty, unsatisfying, and instantly forgettable. There are no wonders of nature to be found here. Only over-the-top theatrics and poor decision making.