I often skip the “kids movies” since my nieces and nephews have aged out of them. But I will generally make an exception for animation, musicals and anything with Robert Downey Jr. Dolittle has the latter. After years of playing Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and other PG-13 and R-rated characters, Downey wanted to make something his younger kids could see. Thus, we have Dolittle – a sweet, harmless, sometimes goofy film reminiscent of the family-friendly comedy adventure films of my youth. It won’t displace the 1967 Rex Harrison version (with music!), or Eddie Murphy’s 1998 take on the classic tale; but for a new generation, this re-imagining of the doctor who can communicate with animals is superficially satisfactory. It’s got enough heart and animal shenanigans to entertain the kids and placate most of the adults in tow.
Here’s the gist: Downey plays Dr. John Dolittle, a renowned physician and veterinarian in Queen Victoria’s England who cut himself off from the world at large after losing his beloved wife. He’s been holed up in a mansion devoid of people but filled with a menagerie of animals that Dolittle chats and interacts with. One day, he’s called upon to help save the young Queen (Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) who’s fallen gravely ill. The only possible cure lies on a mythical island that Dolittle’s wife knew how to get to. So he gathers up her notes and sets sail on an epic adventure, accompanied by a self-appointed apprentice (Harry Collett, Dunkirk) and several animal friends, including an anxious gorilla (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody), an enthusiastic, dimwitted duck (Octavia Spencer), a cynical ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), an upbeat polar bear (John Cena) and a headstrong parrot (Emma Thompson).
Downey adopts a Welsh accent and eccentric attitude to play Dolittle and comes off a bit like a G-rated Jack Sparrow. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking with Dolittle. It’s a safe family movie that falls a bit short given a cast that also includes the likes of Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, and Jim Broadbent and is written and directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic, Gold). Perhaps they all just needed a breath of fluff air. This is certainly that.