“Dolittle,” the Universal-backed fantasy film starring Robert Downey Jr. and a slew of high-profile celebrities voicing CGI animals, was given a seemingly-suitable PG rating. So I was rather taken aback when, in a scene more in line with Brazzers than a family-friendly flick, Downey plunges his entire arm up to his shoulder into a dragon’s rectum and removes, among other detritus, a flag, a suit of armor and a pair of bagpipes.
This movie is a mind-numbing, soul-crushing, spirit-breaking endeavor that will sap you of your will to live and squash your faith in humanity. Watching it is the equivalent of bashing your skull into a wall for an hour and 41 minutes — both will obliterate the same number of brain cells.
It’s hard to know where to start when listing the movie’s faults, but for one, the pacing is totally off. The premise of the movie is that Dolittle, along with his horde of furry friends, must go on a wild-goose chase in search of the fabled Eden Tree; the tree bears a panacean fruit that can revive the deathly ill Queen of England. Dolittle and gang bounce from Buckingham Palace to the kingdom of his ex father-in-law King Rassouli, to the mystical faraway island where the tree grows, and absolutely none of these environments are fleshed out or explored in any meaningful way.
The action is choppy and the transitions abrupt, with scenes haphazardly stitched together. It’s obviously a rushed job, as the editors were working on it up until the bitter end — hardly surprising, as the script was rewritten several times and there were extensive reshoots following poor test screenings. As a result, “Dolittle” has the same energy as a kid pulling an all-nighter, brute-forcing his way through a 3,000-word essay he only began researching yesterday.
Secondly, the dialogue is lazy, piss-poor and utterly unsalvageable, even by the big-name cast. The menagerie of animals, voiced by Hollywood luminaries such as Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer and Marion Cotillard, are reduced to tossing off cheap one-liners and insipid wisecracks. It physically pains me to envision these established talents going into the recording booth and being forced to say things like “Teamwork makes the dream work!,” “Snitches get stitches!” and “Vive la France!” Five — five! — people worked on the screenplay, and this is the best they could come up with? Imagine blowing millions of dollars on rendering ultra-realistic animal fur, just to make them say some shit like “I’m too beautiful to die!”
Finally, principal player Robert Downey Jr. — who’s arguably got enough star power and charisma to at least mildly redeem the movie — instead hammers the final nail in the film’s coffin by electing to put on a bizarre Welsh accent, thus ensuring that every single word that comes out of his mouth is absolutely indecipherable. If you insist on watching this movie (which I implore you to reconsider), I would suggest at least watching it on a platform that provides subtitles, because, believe me, you will need them. It’s hard to say whether the manic look in Downey’s eyes should be attributed to his acting or to the fact that he’s contractually bound to stay aboard a sinking ship.
The only favorable thing I can think of to say about “Dolittle” is that the visuals were quite impressive — hardly surprising, as they were overseen by visual effects legend John Dykstra, who invented the Star Wars lightsaber. But Dykstra may not want to include this gig on his long list of credits, considering how it’s on track to become a major flop; so far, it’s grossed $50 million against a production budget of $175 million.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative response from film critics, most have conceded that the movie’s target audience, young children, will still likely enjoy “Dolittle” due to its potty humor and mildly rude language. But is it really necessary to pander to the lowest common denominator? Why must these big studios resort to fart jokes to keep kids entertained? Do they really have such a low estimation of 8-year-olds? Kids are smart — smarter than we give them credit for. Kids deserve better! The best children’s movies have heart and soul, or, barring that, at least some originality. No such merits are anywhere to be found in this miserable movie.
Leaving the theater, I felt alternately incensed and depressed. It’s quite demoralizing that the people in power, the influential tastemakers who are granted inordinate say over what constitutes art and culture, have decided that “Dolittle” is worthy of our attention and our dollars.
In conclusion, “Dolittle” is unbelievably stupid. Anyone who has two eyes and a brain should be able to see this film for what it is: vapid, warmed-over drivel that’s a damning indictment of modern filmmaking, in which good, solid storytelling is sacrificed at the altar of aesthetics.