Sometimes that first choice coming off of a massive success can be a difficult one…
Coming off of his triumphant run in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr returns to the big screen with Dolittle which just fizzles as a pretty but ultimately messy affair.
After losing his wife seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company. However, when the young queen (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure. He’s regaining his wit and courage along the way as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures. The doctor is joined on his quest by a young, self-appointed apprentice (Harry Collett) and a raucous coterie of animal friends, including an anxious gorilla (Rami Malek), an enthusiastic but bird-brained duck (Octavia Spencer), a bickering duo of a cynical ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani) and an upbeat polar bear (John Cena) and a headstrong parrot (Emma Thompson), who serves as Dolittle’s most trusted advisor and confidante.
It just skews way too young as Dolittle while still cute and nice too look at plays a little too frenetically for anyone over the age of 5.
With director Stephan Gaghan at the helm there’s just a lack of cohesiveness when it comes to the comedy of it all. It looks great and is visually very engaging but the cute and fun beats in a story like this just don’t work. It’s too goofy and it’s too chaotic for anyone looking for any real straight line when it comes to narrative. There’s a lot beats in the film and it just never clicks because while the adventure is paramount in a film like this, the kid friendly comedy needs to play stronger than it actually did.
There were some extensive reshoots on this film and it clearly shows as there’s a lot of neat sequences but nothing that absolutely gels and a lot of rests with on the head of our title character.
I will be the first to scream the praises of the likes of Robert Downey Jr.; even with his work from before he dove into the Marvel Cinematic Universe but everyone has the occasional misstep. His accent is just a little all over the map and we never really get a straight character line and it all feels chaotic. He also served as a producer on this and maybe overreached on this one because while his obvious brilliance is obvious he’s also the kind of talent that needs a little more direction and management in order to get the most out of him.
Outside of RDJ, the writing for the rest of the ensemble is a little underwhelming considering how largely cast the film is. Michael Sheen is fun as the major villain, alongside Antonio Banderas as a large foil in the film got to have some fun but the voice cast of Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cena, Emma Thompson, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Craig Robinson never really got anything to chew on while Jessie Buckley, Jim Broadbent and Harry Collett as his young apprentice just fade into the background that never quite knows what to focus on.
Ultimately, Dolittle is a mess, if you want to bring your kid 5 or under, it will be a pleasant diversion…but bring a book or be ready to take a bit of a nap.