"Dolittle" Review

High-budget studio films are a massive undertaking, and today's sensationalist media reporting is such that people often like to take pleasure in the failure of any blockbuster that doesn't smash at the box office. But what happens when the latest box office flop is helmed by a highly beloved Hollywood A-lister.

Robert Downey Jr. has been making it very clear on the Dolittle press tour that he wanted to make a film that the youngest kids that follow him will be able to see. Though some parents are irresponsible enough to bring their shrieking children to a PG-13 Marvel film, other have enough sense to know that doing so simply isn't appropriate. Dolittle was a passion project to give the kids something that would be fun, full of wonder, and leave them with some good messages to take away by the time the credits roll. So what went wrong?

By all accounts, Dolittle should have been a hit. On paper, all the boxes are checked. A well-established series (the "Dolittle" books and previous film adaptations), a cast full of A-list names, and all the money needed to build a whole new world to get swept on an adventure in. Trouble first began brewing when rumours began to rise on Reddit regarding problems with production. There was talk of reshoots, actors not knowing what animals they were supposed to be pretending to act opposite, directors being replaced. There's no way of truly knowing what happened on set. It may have been as bad as the rumours claimed just as it may have been fine by typical movie-making standards, or anywhere in-between.

One of the main problems with the finished product of "Dolittle" is how clumsy the writing and humour is. There's an overabundance of the lowest type of humour, particularly in regards to bodily functions. Those are the types of jokes that only five-year-olds would laugh at. The climax of the film is Doctor Dolittle doing a colonoscopy on a dragon and after unclogging it, the dragon farts (you can see this moment in the film's trailer).

On the other hand, there are too many sporadically thrown-in modern references for pop culture and slang. An octopus says "snitches get stitches." Ants re-enact dialogue from The Godfather. Dolittle lacks a clear identity and or intention in what style it wants to be. The anachronistic references could have worked if it had been fully committed to, and embraced for all the style it can add to the film, as opposed to distracting from the more emotional and dramatic stakes of the story. The humour is so poor, despite having so many talented names in the cast, that it's likely down to a combination of poor writing and choppy editing.

With films like Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one or two) and Maleficent being successful adventure and fantasy stories that work well across age demographics, Dolittle had the right pieces to follow in their footsteps. It's not entirely clear what the main source of the misfires is. But if there is anything the film does right, it's the more heartfelt messages that the kids watching are supposed to take away from the story. Dolittle's adventure stems from a need to save the sick Queen or else the deed to their land will get sold off. Dolittle would be out of a home and a job, while all his animal companions living in the sanctuary would be thrust out into the wild right in the middle of hunting season. Additionally, the young boy Tommy who aspires to be Dolittle's apprentice has some nice subtext in his character arc. While Tommy comes from a family of hunters, he has a more empathetic attitude towards animals. When he comes wearing a fancy scarf gifted to him by the Princess, his father immediately chides him for his attire. When you see Tommy saddened at overhearing his father questioning why his son isn't more like the rest of the family (hunters), you can't help but note that children watching who similarly come from harsh families that don't understand them can feel hope that they too can find a home, adventure, and supportive friends somewhere out in the world.

Though Dolittle has been poorly received by adults, it still has enough going for it to appeal to small children. If you are a parent, older sibling, relative, etc. it could be worth adding to your child's collection.

Watch our video review of "Dolittle" here:


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