Written by: Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek
Time and time again, Hollywood gets a lesson presented to them where throwing loads of money on an unexciting idea will not yield the results they seek. Whether or not they learn from this lesson remains the bigger question and the complete atrocity of Dolittle provided the answer that once again they have not learned anything. Here we are as we see yet another big waste of money on a tired property fronted by a leading actor with no care at all for his craft.
Living in seclusion and away from humanity after the death of his beloved wife, Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr) gets a visit from a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) hoping the doctor will nurse a squirrel he shot. After learning about the agreement for his land possibly being void if the Queen of England dies, he sets sail with his band of animals to find the impossible cure for her ailment.
Oh my goodness, what have we done? When a film lands in January, it typically does not mean we’re necessarily receiving quality but something like Dolittle reaches a whole new level of a production going completely out of control. Its placement on the release calendar was the first sign and the end result was truly shocking. I understand this film is geared towards children but its lack of substance feels a bit insulting towards its targeted audience. Everything about the film defines a lack of quality, but it can all be summarized by the performance of its lead actor.
Robert Downey Jr has been an actor I have held opposing feelings about. When he’s on his game and cares, he can deliver sharp performances, but as of late it just seems he wants roles where he can collect millions and sleepwalk through the production. With all of the resources and name recognition this man possesses, he could help bring forth wonderful groundbreaking works but instead he decides to invest his time in something like this. His performance has him doing a Welsh accent I suppose but I could barely make out any words coming from his mouth. Luckily I watched this film with subtitles because without them I would be completely lost. You know what? Maybe it would have been better if I did not because then I could just focus on the visuals on display.
The visuals would be a great respite if not for them also being incredibly lackluster. Dolittle essentially all seems to be filled on green screens where Downey had to act opposite of these animals and for all the money this film cost, the animals could have looked much better. There’s a particular chase scene where Tommy leaps and it looks like a video game cutscene rather than something made in reported $175 million film.
The story they attempted to attach to his feature tells a basic tale we have seen in several other children’s films. Our protagonist must venture to a place no one has ever reached to find a cure only rumored about, which would save the Queen of England. I would be fine with this story if not for everything surrounding it being aggressively subpar. Dolittle contains so many instances where they try to be clever but it just falls apart right in front of our eyes. When the climax includes Dolittle getting farted on, you just know everyone attached was proud of what they accomplished here.
The only redeeming quality of this film comes in the form of the voice cast. It became a fun game of recognizing who appears as an animal, which would have been better had any of the animals had any role of note in this story. My favorite ones came in the form of voice actors I appreciate and had very limited screen time in Jason Mantzoukas and Will Arnett. The rest of the voice cast includes Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, and Marion Cotillard. Truly a tremendous assortment of talent and I could not tell you who voiced which animal because they were immaterial to the story.
Dolittle will be a film I will forget a few minutes after I file this review with good reason. Its story lacks any originality, it wastes its voice cast and it unfortunately confirms what we can expect from Robert Downey Jr moving forward. A true shame to think of what Universal could have done with the money they sunk into this calamitous mess.