Do you smell something?
It seems almost unfair to write about Dolittle. Why on Earth would a movie with a $175 million budget and starring Robert Downey Jr. be opening in the armpit of the Hollywood calendar known as January? All the kids are back in school, almost everyone blew all of their spending money in December, and those that had any cash left lost it on the Patriots or Saints. Or both. Predicting Dolittle to be a disaster is like shooting fish in a barrel…if the fish were already dead.
The first thing you need to know is your kids will almost certainly like Dolittle. It has talking animals. It has fart jokes. It has a cute little girl playing a princess and a young boy who wants to learn to talk to the animals like Dr. Dolittle. Kids aren’t jaded like we adults and their taste in movies starts and stops at loud noises, bright colors, and bodily noises. My son thought it was hilarious. All of this is why I dreaded giving my initial opinion after the film.
When the agency representative asked what I thought, I pointed at my son and said “ask him.” He gave his opinion – he thought it was very funny – and then she turned back to me. I was trying hard not to jade my son, but he has heard me talking about movies before. After trying to get out of it again (my exact words were “I don’t wanna”), I stood there silently, staring at her, trying to think of something cryptic that he would not understand, but she would. Finally, it hit me. “Well, now I know why this movie opened in January.” A huge smile appeared on her face and she enthusiastically agreed. I know my son has a very good idea of what I really thought, but I think we pulled it off. At least, that is what I am telling myself.
(SPOILERS COMING, so do not let your kids read this.)
The movie starts off bad right away – with opening narration. This being the start of a new year, this is a good time to remind you that opening narration is a huge red flag. Typically, narration is the result of a test audience being hopelessly confused by the movie. Also typically, it is an extremely lazy way to convey a bunch of exposition. Exposition that most likely was originally filmed, but the resulting footage sucked. In almost all cases, narration is completely pointless. Dolittle is a perfect example of at least two of these, especially the pointless part (a new writer and director were brought in to redo a bunch of footage, which resulted in twenty-one days of reshoots). We are told that Dolitttle (Robert Downey Jr.) can talk to animals, that his wife died while out on an adventure, and that Dolittle closed off his veterinarian business after her death. The movie then proceeds to show us these things, or describe them to us through character dialogue, when Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) summons Dolittle to the castle to evaluate the sick Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley).
After examining the queen, Dolittle determines that the only thing that can cure the queen (she has been poisoned) is the fruit of the mythical Eden Tree. Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) scoffs at this notion, but Dolittle sets off to find the unfindable tree. Not wanting Dolittle to succeed, Lord Badgley sends Mudfly and a battalion of soldiers to chase Dolittle down and kill him. No, this movie does not have a twist and does not care about keeping any surprises for later. This is but one of many likely reasons why test audiences hated this film.
Another reason they hated the film is probably the bizarre voice Downey affected as Dolittle. If you have seen the previews, you heard Downey’s subdued, husky, thick British accent that prevented him from emoting or even raising his voice. At times, it even seemed as if it weren’t his voice at all or that he had to rerecord all of his lines and they were dubbed over the film. We know he can do better because Sherlock Holmes exists, so there is no good explanation for this terrible decision.
Then, there were the animals and their dialogue. Despite this film taking place in Victorian England, the animals are speaking in a variety of accents, all delivering modern phrases and modern slang. It was incredibly off-putting and completely out of place. For adults that is. This is a movie aimed squarely at kids’ faces and ear holes and few children are going to wonder why nineteenth-century, British animals are calling each other bro.
At least the voice actors didn’t have to show their faces (and there were quite a few well-known names). Voicing talking animals gets them mostly off the hook, allowing them to give absurd performances that kind of fit. Sheen and Antonio Banderas get no such reprieve. All I could think while watching the two of them ham it up was how sad it was to watch really good actors vomit out performances more suited to bad ABC Family movies. At least the budget for this film indicates they were paid well for temporarily setting their souls on fire.
I cannot stress enough that this movie is for kids and kids alone. There are a lot of reasons why this movie will almost assuredly tank at the box office, but the lack of appeal to adults may be the biggest one. Again, test audiences hated this film. The crazy thing is that the film is a toilet-clogger, even after extensive rewrites and reshoots. At one point, Dolittle performs a colon-cleansing on a dragon by pulling a company’s worth of armor and a set of bagpipes out of its ass. Think about that for a minute – they left that part in the movie. At that point, I and the kids were laughing, but for different reasons. They laughed because the dragon farted in Dolittle’s face. I laughed because, yep, January.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and hope your kids stay innocent for as long as possible.