Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) lives in solitude behind the high walls of his lush manor in 19th-century England. His only companionship comes from an array of exotic animals that he speaks to on a daily basis. But when young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) becomes gravely ill, the eccentric doctor and his furry friends embark on an epic adventure to a mythical island to find the cure.
Stephen Gaghan’s Dolittle, a new 2020 film adaptation of the beloved tale of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, is the first film in six years starring Robert Downey Jr. that is not a Marvel movie. He is of course best known as his role as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and, this decade, has played the iconic superhero in blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War, and Iron Man 3 just to name a few. What is disappointing, however, is that he chose Dolittle as his next project outside of the MCU, because this is an extremely underwhelming and incredibly weak film.
Don’t get me wrong, Downey Jr. is actually pretty good in the role. He gives a lot to the character of Doctor Dolittle and it is apparent when watching this film that he genuinely had a ton of fun portraying such a beloved character. He is really the furthest thing from the problem. The problem is the film’s script written by Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand. This is one of the most unexciting and unfortunately flat scripts I have seen so far this year. Yes, there are a few charming moments akin to the source material, but they are so little and far between and the story was just a mess and was boring.
There is no sense of urgency to anything going on in the story. The entire thing feels like mindless adventures and pointless action scene one after another. We do get some time to breathe, it is just that the film is seemingly uninterested in fleshing out a large portion of its characters and doesn’t really have anything exciting to say. This kind of feels like what I like to call a “Saturday morning cartoon movie”. It’s a movie that will probably entertain extremely young children, and it may have some adventurous sequences throughout, but it is something that you will forget about in a day or two.
Something that a lot of people called out from the initial trailer that was released a couple of months ago was the computer-generated imagery. Just by watching the trailer it was too hard to judge it, and I was saving my thoughts until I had seen the full movie. Unfortunately, a lot of the visuals here look a bit dodgy. It is not awful looking by any means. It is just, rather, obvious at times that you are looking at something that was created artificially on a computer. Gratefully, though, it is one of those movies where you just kind of get used to how things look after a while and it doesn’t bother you as much after a while.
This is not the worst movie I have ever seen though, not even close. There are things to like about Dolittle such as its fun performances. As I mentioned earlier, Downey Jr. does a good job in an otherwise dull movie and he by far delivers the best performance among the cast. The others are mainly just the voices of celebrities, providing the voices for a large portion of the animal characters. Something that was quite fun to watch was people like Tom Holland voice a dog named Jip and Selena Gomez voice a giraffe named Betsy. All in all, the performances were quite a bit of fun to watch.
Danny Elfman’s musical score is also a treat to listen to. While it is nowhere near his best score, it is still a good and fun score. He is one of those composers where it seems like he is genuinely incapable of making a poor score, and this movie proves that.
Aside from the performances, a couple of fun scenes and a fun score, that’s all the praise I can give Dolittle. Everything else was massively disappointing, sadly. Its story and script are terribly boring and uninteresting as it almost never aims its sights on telling a compelling story with interesting characters. It does have some strange visual effects and, also, a lot of the humor is hit or miss. However, if you have a really young child, they may be somewhat entertained by this film.
Robert Downey Jr. gives a fun performance in Dolittle, an otherwise tragically boring and uninteresting mess that has shoddy visuals and mindless adventure sequences.
Overall Grade: D
MPAA Rating: PG for some action, rude humor and brief language
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: January 17, 2020 (United States)
Running Time: 102 minutes