Dr. Doolittle sets out (with his apprentice and a bunch of animals) to find a cure for the Queen’s illness.
I have so many things to say about this movie, very little of it positive…so hold onto your hats, kids ! Oh, and there are SPOILERS if anyone cares (and you shouldn’t, really. Trust the Otter.)
Firstly, let me say that I loved these books; I had a collection of four or five of them in paperback that I read over and over and over. Before seeing this movie I reread the first one, The Story of Dr. Dolittle. And enjoyed it, although being a British book of its time, it is not politically correct in any way. So I was ready to see a more modern and less Rex Harrison-y version, and to like it very much. I mean, ROBERT DOWNEY JR? Oh yes.
And I was in the theater with Ottersis. And the movie started…and the opening credits were pretty awesome. They were set against a series of drawings showing the story of how Dolittle had a medical practice, learned to talk to animals, met a beautiful woman explorer, fell in love, she had to go on one more voyage, her ship was wrecked, and she sent Polly the parrot (whose REAL name was Polynesia, dammit!) back to Dolittle with her wedding ring…and he became a recluse.
THEN the movie started with him hiding in his house like Willy Wonka in the shut-down chocolate factory.
And you know what they say about sequels, that they’re never as good as the first movie? It was true in this case too…because the story that was told in the opening credits was AWESOME and would have made a WONDERFUL movie. This, although technically a stand-alone, was really a sequel to that story, and like most sequels…it SUCKED. (Here’s Otter’s list of Sequels that Don’t Suck)
Firstly, it was predictable. Grieving curmudgeon is forced to come back to life by a cute child and His Duty.
Secondly, the animals were way more fun than any of the actors.
Thirdly, Downey was just not at the top of his game. He was so completely phoning it in that I thought maybe he owed a favor to whoever made this damn thing and had been forced to appear in it. I mean, Iron Man. The Avengers. And as soon as his Avengers contract is over, he does…THIS? But no. He was the executive producer. It was his baby.
He must bear the blame. Especially for NOT engaging his audience, a mortal sin in a kids’ movie. Gene Wilder was a curmudgeon but (as soon as the ‘walking slowly out of the factory and scaring everyone’ part was over, he was obviously fun and interesting and engaged with the kids. Downey…was not. Granted, it can’t have been easy doing that much green screen time, since most of the actors in this movie (the animals) were cgi…but he’s done this before and it’s worked. It truly looked and felt like he just didn’t want to be there at all. And after a bit, neither did I. He was so low-key and nonreactive that it was almost painful to watch him…he was certainly not interested in engaging his audience, any more than he was interested in the movie he was STARRING IN…!
Fourthly, the plot was trite and didn’t make sense. The queen is sick, we have to assume Queen Victoria, although she is never mentioned by name. She is played by a 30 year old woman and looks younger than that, but we’ll give it 30. That would mean this movie is set in 1869 or thereabouts, but nothing in the politics or period detail reflect this. But wait, you say, this is a kid’s movie, you are overthinking it! Nope. If a movie has a definite time and place, it has to WORK. This didn’t. And of course there are plots, and one of her advisors is poisoning her with a nebulous poison that leaves her at the brink of death for an unspecified time, which Dolittle goes off on adventures and gets the fruit to make her better and gets back JUST in time to unmask the bad guy and fix ol’ Queenie right up. Shades of The Magician’s Nephew, seriously.
The CGI animals were darn cute, although a little too cute and scene-stealy. The rest of the cast was fine. But the plot…there were other plot problems, which brings me to
Fifthly. More than once, we are told about something amazing and exciting, either because the movie was getting too long or they ran out of CGI budget. There was a point, I think when they reached the island of the guy who was supposed to help them but threw them into prison instead, and the movie literally cut from the ship to them climbing up the ramparts of the castle while the parrot (Emma Thompson) who was also the narrator told us that amazing adventures had happened to get them there. Huh? Then why didn’t you show them to us instead of referring to them so offhandedly? This is just plain bad writing, for whatever reason, and should not have happened.
So yes, I disliked this movie intensely. It was badly written, Downey was awful, and the plot, even for a kid’s movie, was trite and annoying. Why, oh why, did they not make the movie from the beginning credits? I guess we’ll never know…