Robert Downey Jr. has a talent for bringing larger than life literary characters to life on the big screen and now he breathes new life back into the classic children’s literary figure Dr Dolittle in a bold and colourful new tale in Dolittle.
Seven years after his wife’s death, the eccentric John Dolittle (Downey), famed doctor and veterinarian in Victorian England, becomes a hermit, hiding himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor, with only his menagerie of animals for company.
But when Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and encounters wondrous creatures.
Downey Jr teams up with director Stephen Gaghan for this new take on the classic and colourful story of the adventurous Dr John Dolittle who has the unique ability to talk to animals and Downey Jr. and Gaghan make this one fantastical for the kids. Incorporating a magical sense of worldbuilding, larger than life characters and a unique high adventure narrative, Dolittle is like a child’s storybook come to life and is packed full of vibrant hues that capture its heightened Victorian-era setting. Gaghan focuses his attention both on Dr Dolittle’s long road to redemption and self-acceptance, along with building out a fantastical journey that will enchant younger viewers. Dolittle harkens back to those classic films such as Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson, a brand new generation will have fun with this.
In Dolittle, audiences get to see Downey Jr. at his most theatrical, and there’s a real vaudeville, almost pantomime quality to his off-kilter, oddball character of Dr John Dolittle. While he may be a noted scientific genius and explorer, Downey’s Dolittle has few, if any people skills, and has a hard time dealing with the whims of mankind and instead focuses his attention on his animal family. What is charming about this film is that it is the animals who ultimately save Dolittle, and help him build a connection back to the human world. With Dolittle, Downey Jr.’s performance is rather experimental in its flamboyance and it feels like he’s directed his energy towards entertaining a younger audience in a similar way to the late great Gene Wilder. And younger movie-goers will be enthralled by his whimsical character and the fantastical world in which he exists.
Providing support to Downey Jr. in Dolittle is a broad range of larger than life animal characters such as John Cena’s laid-back, surfer dude polar bear Yoshi and Kumail Nanjiani uptight ostrich Plimpkin. But the standouts of Dolittle’s animal cast include the likes of Dolittle’s all-around supporter and wise companion Polynesia, or Poly, played by the one and only Emma Thompson who brings an effortless charm to this straight-talking macaw. Standing in the background and needing a little help is the shy and anxious Gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek), and it’s through his interaction with Dolittle that we see the good doctor’s healing and sense of calm play out as Chee-Chee is able to overcome his fears and finds his courage. While finally Ralph Fiennes brings a delectable terror to the big screen as an antagonistic Tiger named Barry who has it in for Dolittle, but who’s ongoing mother-issues and need for therapy produces some outlandish laughs amongst the audience.
Dolittle is classic high-adventure filmmaking in the grandest sense and young viewers will flock to this one thanks to its menagerie of amazing animal characters and storybook charm. If you’re looking for a fun film to keep the kids entertained with these holidays then you’ll find it with Dolittle and they’ll have a blast with this one.
Image: Universal Pictures