If Robert Downey Jr. was concerned about being typecast as Tony Stark following eleven appearances in various Ironman and Avengers roles for Marvel Studios, this film serves as a much needed break, putting a fresh new face on a role Eddie Murphy and Rex Harrison played in 1998 and 1967 respectively.
In fact, Downey was Executive Producer for this production, which may speak to his desire for a different creative challenge. It is the most un-Ironman acting imaginable. The star’s Team Downey production company produced this very expensive film.
Take equal parts of Willy Wonka, Captain Nemo and Captain Jack Sparrow, and you have the look and feel of Doctor John Dolittle as he is very reluctantly pried from his animal sanctuary in search of the “Eden Tree” to cure the ailing Victoria, queen of England. Heartbreak over the death of his beloved wife and partner in adventure has forced him into a life of solitude with only his animal associates to converse with, in true Doctor Dolittle style. No humans allowed, at least not until young Tommy Stubbins breaches the fortified barrier to his compound with the aid of a talking parrot, voiced by Emma Thompson.
There are lots of celebrity voices at work in Dolittle. Downey’s own gruff, half-whispering British accent is complimented by Rami Malek, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani, Ralph Fiennes and Selena Gomez, each as an animal ranging from Ostrich to Elephant.
At first, Downey’s hooting and barking was somewhat embarrassing. Here we have the great Sherlock Holmes (2009) rolling on the floor and beating his chest in a chess game with a timid gorilla. But soon the animals acquire human voices and the audience is brought into the act.
There are quite a few funny scenes, pratfalls and jokes, some of which will go over the kiddies’ heads the way they did in old Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes. There are also several fairly intense encounters with a fire breathing dragon, attacking bats and a caged tiger that could be a bit much for really young children. At least three villainous scoundrels work hard to prevent Dolittle from succeeding in his quest.
But overall, the fairytale feel to the film, with enough high quality computer generated action to do Disney proud, kept the row of small children in front of us engaged and excitedly laughing at all the right parts.
Make sure you stay for a minute beyond the closing credits for a brief extra scene.
Dolittle (2020) runs 1 hour, 41 minutes and is rated PG.
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