I have read some dreadful reviews of Dolittle–all of them written by critics. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find reviews from your everyday mum/dad/viewer and you’ll find a kinder story. I have to agree with the latter group of people. This is one of those films where ‘the critics’ (whoever they are) have taken to the film with a ‘slash-and-burn’ pile-on mentality, throwing enough weight into their words to make them sound superior. (It is reminiscent of many book reviews I’ve read with the same lofty attitude.) Another time I’ve had to disagree with the critics is with the film The Holiday (starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet). To this day, The Holiday remains one of my favourite films of all time and from my perspective is a fantastic piece of romantic comedy that does exactly what it sets out to do and leaves us all feeling happy at the end. The critics smashed it; audiences felt differently.
Back to Dolittle… This film is not brilliant (though Robert Downey Jnr is), but it doesn’t deserve the backlash it’s received. Apparently, it had a fraught production, with multiple shootings, heavy rewriting, severe editing, delayed schedule, and ‘new talent’ brought into the production team to try to save it. Despite this, there are many things working in its favour.
The storyline begins with Dr Dolittle having hidden himself away from the world as a hermit living solely with his eccentric bunch of talking animals. Never having recovered from the loss of his wife and having grown a long beard and acting much like an animal himself, he is like a castaway who has been stranded on an island for many years, which, metaphorically speaking, he is. This all changes with two adolescents arrive onto his property on the same day and he is called back out into the world to save the dying queen of England or lose his estate he shares with his beloved animals. This leads him to open his world and ultimately his heart, all while sailing the seas to mystical islands, essentially in a bit of a pirate race with the bad guys. Downy Jnr is a master actor and there is real depth in the grief he portrays while barely saying a word about it.
As an animal lover, I adored the many wonderful animals in this film and general notions of living closely with them and being able to communicate with them as equals and I know many other animals lovers will feel the same. As a human, I appreciate the journey Dolittle must take to re-enter the world after such a crushing loss.
I agree with the critics in that a lot of the humour falls flat. There were several times in the theatre when the entire audience was dead silent when I’m sure they were supposed to be laughing. But it was entertaining enough to keep my seven-year-old engaged (and he has a ruthless attention span) and it’s a good piece of harmless, enjoyable fun.
Verdict: take it for what it is and enjoy