Published Jan 15, 2020Robert Downey Jr.'s post-Iron Man career is off to a clumsy start. His latest foray into the world of franchise IP is an unfortunately dead-on-arrival Dolittle. It's a movie for children, full of talking animals, that should be a playful series of adventures with doses of quick-witted humour. Instead, it's an exhausting retread that insults the intelligence of everyone in the audience.
Doctor John Dolittle has spent several years secluded in his manor, surrounded by animals he's healed, following the untimely death of his wife, Lily. One day, Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) accidentally shoots a squirrel and is led to the good doctor by Dolittle's faithful macaw. Concurrently, Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) arrives on the scene to proclaim that Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is deathly ill and needs to see the doctor. Once Dolittle heals Kevin the squirrel (voiced by Craig Robinson), he regains his purpose and bumbles his way into a quest to save the Queen, who has been stealthily poisoned by a man who wishes to usurp the throne.
There's an obvious setup for what should be a thrilling, or at the very least, a passably entertaining time at the movies. The problem is it's all skin-deep. Stubbins is the lens through which the audience experiences the story, but he's a human-sized plot device. He doesn't want to shoot animals, so he's at odds with his hunting family, causing his father to offer a one-off line akin to "that boy ain't right." Yes, Stubbins becomes Dolittle's apprentice and begins to develop the same ability to talk with the animals — and walk with the animals — but why? Similarly, Lady Rose does nothing but push the plot forward. There is no depth to her character.
This could all mostly be overlooked if it brought the humour. Somehow, very few laughs are mined out of a voice cast that includes Robinson, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer and Jason Mantzoukas, among others. At one point, when one of the villains is exposed, a dog cracks wise that it looks like "someone has been a bad boy." When questioning an octopus for information related to the queen's sickness, the sea creature replies with "snitches get stitches."
Yes, Dolittle may ultimately be a film for children, but they deserve much better.