I was mildly interested in seeing Dolittle given how much I enjoyed Robert Downey Jr. (Dr. John Dolittle) as Iron Man in the recent run of Marvel movies. It is curiosity raising to see how an actor who played such an iconic character follows up such a generational performance. I will give this movie credit for one thing: I did not once think of the Avengers while watching Dolittle. Then again, I did not really think of anything other than, “That is not actually Buckingham Palace.”
Dolittle is the story of an eccentric veterinarian (I guess), Dr. John Dolittle, who has the special ability to communicate verbally with animals. He has been hiding out in his English manor for some time since his wife disappeared looking for an island containing the Eden Tree. But then fate intervenes when Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) and a wounded squirrel (Kevin, voiced by Craig Robinson). At the same moment, an emissary from Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) in the form of the teenaged Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) to inform Victoria’s old pal Dolittle that his sovereign was sick and only he could help her. Why the Queen of England would send somebody like this, or trust someone who was seemingly insane with her health, I have no idea. But, whatever the reason, Dolittle goes, figures out that the queen is being poisoned, and decides on the spot that he needs to obtain the fruit of the Eden Tree that claimed the life of his wife. Why? Because movie.
Much like my review of 1917, I watched Dolittle with my history-cap on. I had not intended to be viewing it in this manner, but they decided to toss in enough of a grounding with actual events and people to get that part of my brain activated. Thus when they brought Dolittle and company to what was clearly not Buckingham Palace, I rolled my eyes. So that aspect of the film was silly. Yet how much of this was really meant to be taken seriously? Apparently not a whole lot. After all, it is a movie that features talking animals. I also could not pin what accent Robert Downey Jr. was attempting. Scottish? Irish? I believe they said he was Welsh. If so, the entire province of Wales should rise up, march on the offices of Universal Pictures, and burn them down. In short, it was bad.
There really is not much here to recommend Dolittle. This might be trivial, but my sense of Catholic responsibility was piqued when Stubbins runs off with Dolittle to chase adventure. He had parents, but Dolittle lets the young man tag along. Way to go! Okay, I am being a little critical here, and I will say that I liked when Dolittle admonished Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek) that “It’s okay to be afraid.” The cowardly gorilla takes that lesson to heart and helps to save Dolittle from the ravenous tiger, Barry (voiced by Ralph Fiennes). I guess that makes Dolittle into a kind of god, which I am understandably uncomfortable with believing. It is okay for us to be afraid, but faith in God says that we do not really need to fear.
In thinking about what I was going to say about Dolittle, I originally thought I might just say: it’s fine. It really is just that: fine. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just fine. A little silly, but fine. Historically laughable, but fine.