Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Michael Sheen
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Running Time: 101 mins
Dolittle is an American film about a doctor with the ability to talk to animals who is tasked with saving the life of the Queen of England, leading him to set out on a far-flung adventure across the seas along with his band of furry friends.
In a world where even kids’ movies have a capacity to surprise, Dolittle feels entirely ancient – lacking any originality, energy or entertainment value. It’s not a hateful film, but it’s just a bit rubbish, never sparking a laugh or a smile in the midst of a garish and one-dimensional mess.
And that, perhaps even more so than being purely terrible, is what makes Dolittle such a frustrating watch. It’s painfully shallow throughout, with little else to a frankly ridiculous adventure than getting a bunch of CGI animals into stupid situations, while it fails on almost all counts in its attempts to make you laugh.
The film is squarely aimed at kids, so I won’t have a go at it for lacking striking or risqué comedy where needed, but even so – Dolittle is so reliant on dull, predictable gags based around characters falling over or toilet humour throughout, never really bothering to come up with anything remotely funny in the form of its character development or adventure.
The only saving grace in that regard (and the highlight of the film for me) is the small sideline about a paranoid squirrel confused by the young boy who once shot at him joining the voyage across the seas. That sounds like pure gibberish explained out of context, but it’s the one clever bit of comedy that blends character depth and running humour effectively.
But when the best part of your movie is a CGI squirrel, that proves there really isn’t much to write home about. Robert Downey Jr. is uninspiring in the lead role, with a mumbling version of a Welsh accent cut alongside a far from charismatic performance. His co-stars (both live-action and CGI), too, lack chemistry with him, nor do they ever steal the show on their own (apart from the squirrel).
With such a large collection of animal sidekicks coming along on the adventure, you’d expect at least a little bit of engaging character development for each of them, even if it’s all inevitably going to get a bit muddled.
The problem, however, is that despite A-list voice talent, the animals are generally dull, lacking any distinguishing characteristics, and almost entirely irrelevant on the journey alongside their human co-stars. The CGI is undoubtedly good (although not on the level of The Lion King or The Jungle Book), but the screenplay doesn’t give any reason for them to be there other than as cute leads for young children to enjoy looking at.
The adventure that the film follows Dr. Dolittle and his friends on is fairly plain, and plays out entirely to a frustratingly CGI-heavy backdrop. Coupled with garish visuals and crowded, messy production and costume design, the film ends up a whole lot less enjoyable to watch when everything on screen is so frenetic.
As a result, there’s really not that much to enjoy about Dolittle. Young kids who enjoy CGI animals and toilet humour should have a passable time with this, but for anyone else, it’s a dull, unoriginal and painfully shallow film that feels decades old for 2020. It’s not a hateful watch, and one CGI squirrel saves the day at times, but it’s a generally underwhelming and frankly boring watch regardless. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 5.3.