×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dr. Dolittle

The concept must have looked great on paper: remake and contemporize Hugh Lofting's "Doctor Dolittle" with Eddie Murphy and state-of-the-art tech wizardry from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. But the resulting "Dr. Dolittle" is a letdown. Slim on story and rife with scatological jokes, the film may strike a chord with pre-teens but misses for an older crowd despite some nifty effects and broad humor.

With:
Dr. John Dolittle - Eddie Murphy Archer Dolittle - Ossie Davis Dr. Mark Weller - Oliver Platt Calloway - Peter Boyle Dr. Gene Reiss - Richard Schiff Lisa Dolittle - Kristen Wilson Dr. Fish - Jeffrey Tambor Maya Dolittle - Kyla Pratt Charisse Dolittle - Raven-Symone Dr. Litvack - Steven Gilborn

The concept must have looked great on paper: remake and contemporize Hugh Lofting’s “Doctor Dolittle” (lavishly produced by Fox as a kid’s musical in 1967, starring Rex Harrison) with Eddie Murphy and state-of-the-art tech wizardry from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. But the resulting “Dr. Dolittle” is a letdown. Slim on story and rife with scatological jokes, the film may strike a chord with pre-teens but misses for an older crowd despite some nifty effects and broad humor. Costly venture will require considerable commercial muscle to recoup the investment, but theatrical biz appears to be no better than OK, with the film’s big payday down the line on video.

Thrusting the story into the present day regrettably robs the material of its storybook magic. The original doctor’s entertaining alchemy was drawn from his ability to talk to the animals. Growing up in San Francisco, the updated Dr. John Dolittle was exorcised of that gift as a child, when he began to adopt the social customs of a family pet. His unique ability suddenly returns when, as an adult, he strikes his head on his car’s windshield after swerving to avoid a stray dog in the road.

Dolittle is freaked out by his long-forgotten talent. And when his family and colleagues catch him conversing with dogs, guinea pigs, birds and the like, they strongly urge him to take the rest cure.

The dilemma for the noted surgeon is that once he gets used to this rapport, he rediscovers the sheer joy of the doctor-patient relationship. His new animal clients are more forthright about what ails them than his human patients, and the challenge of healing their pain is a tonic from the institutionalized-medicine rut that has overcome his clinic.

After milking some hilarious situations for most of the film’s running length, the Nat Mauldin-Larry Levin script settles into the core drama.

In a nutshell, it’s about coming to grips with what’s important to one’s personal fulfillment and recognizing that what others perceive as handicaps can indeed be gifts. A saccharine tone dominates the material late in the film — thankfully, only briefly.

Murphy is largely saddled with a reactive role, and periodically it seems that he’s playing to a blue screen where members of the menagerie will be optically inserted later. Nonetheless, he provides a much-needed emotional anchor to a yarn largely adrift on an uncharted narrative sea.

Murphy’s supporting human cast must limn one-dimensional roles, with Oliver Platt as a medical partner consumed with unbridled greed and Kristen Wilson cast as Dolittle’s earnestly concerned wife.

The real stars of the picture are the animals: the creature creations and the voice talent behind the furry friends. A dog named Lucky, voiced by Norm Macdonald, emerges as a deft physical ham, and the comic’s delivery turns an examination at a veterinary hospital involving a misplaced thermometer a laugh riot.

Also lending personality to the animals are Albert Brooks as a depressed tiger and Reni Santoni and John Leguizamo as permanently feuding rats. Still, one longs for such fantastical creatures as the giant pink snail and the enchanting two-headed Push-Me-Pull-You of the books and earlier film version.

To the production’s and director Betty Thomas’ credit, there’s a general seamlessness in the manner the humans, critters and inventions interact.

Dr. Dolittle” is a smoothly crafted enterprise whose technical skill makes the glaring shortcomings of the story all the more disappointing.

Popular on Variety

Dr. Dolittle

Production: A 20th Century Fox release of a Davis Entertainment Co./Joseph M. Singer Entertainment production. Produced by John Davis, Joseph M. Singer, David T. Friendly. Executive producers, Sue Baden-Powell, Jenno Topping. Directed by Betty Thomas. Screenplay, Nat Mauldin, Larry Levin, based on the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting. Reviewed at the Mann Plaza, L.A., June 15, 1998.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Russell Boyd; editor, Peter Teschner; music, Richard Gibbs; production designer, William Elliott; art director, Greg Papalia; set decorator, K.C. Fox; costume designer, Sharen Davis; visual effects supervisor, Jon Farhat; animatronic creatures, Jim Henson's Creature Shop; sound (Dolby Digital), David Kirschner; associate producer, Steph Lady; assistant director, Richard Grave; casting, Nancy Foy. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Dr. John Dolittle - Eddie Murphy Archer Dolittle - Ossie Davis Dr. Mark Weller - Oliver Platt Calloway - Peter Boyle Dr. Gene Reiss - Richard Schiff Lisa Dolittle - Kristen Wilson Dr. Fish - Jeffrey Tambor Maya Dolittle - Kyla Pratt Charisse Dolittle - Raven-Symone Dr. Litvack - Steven GilbornVoices: Lucky - Norm Macdonald Jacob - Albert Brooks Rodney - Chris Rock Rat #1 - Reni Santoni Rat #2 - John Leguizamo Female Pigeon - Julie Kavner Male Pigeon - Garry Shandling Compulsive Dog - Gilbert Gottfried

More Film

  • Paul Downs Colaizzo

    'Perfect Nanny' Movie Adaptation Taps 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Director (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leila Slimani’s critically acclaimed, international bestseller “The Perfect Nanny” — aka “Chanson Douce” — is coming to the big screen. Legendary has closed a deal for Paul Downs Colaizzo to adapt and direct the English-language adaptation. Legendary will produce the pic alongside Pascal Caucheteux of Why Not Productions and Philippe Godeau of Pan-Européenne. The story [...]

  • Sterling K. BrownVariety and Women in

    Sterling K. Brown to Narrate Disney Plus Documentary 'One Day at Disney' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sterling K. Brown is set to lend his voice to the upcoming Disney Plus feature documentary “One Day at Disney,” Variety has learned exclusively. “One Day at Disney” will highlight the people who work on some of Disney’s most beloved stories. The film will highlight 10 specific people and their role at Disney through the lens [...]

  • Mehrdad Oskouei on IDFA Opener ‘Sunless

    Mehrdad Oskouei on IDFA Opener ‘Sunless Shadows’: 'Giving a Voice to Voiceless People'

    Documentary film festival IDFA opened Wednesday with Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Sunless Shadows,” the latest in a series of films about incarcerated teens in his homeland. Developed with help from the IDFA Bertha Fund, the film takes viewers inside an Iranian juvenile detention center, where a group of underage girls are serving time for very [...]

  • Stephen Curry John Legend

    Stephen Curry, John Legend Team on Sports Drama 'Signing Day' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Stephen Curry’s Unanimous Media production banner, John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co. and Sony Pictures are teaming up for the sports drama “Signing Day.” The project, which has tapped screenwriter Adam Hoff, marks one of the first films to be put into development under the NBA superstar’s first-look deal with the studio, which he signed [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Pulls 'The Banker' as AFI Fest Closing Night Film

    In a last-minute decision, Apple has canceled a planned gala screening of “The Banker,” one of the tech company’s flagship original films that was meant to close AFI Fest on Thursday in Hollywood. Netflix has stepped in and will screen Noah Baumbach’s acclaimed “Marriage Story” in its place. “We purchased ‘The Banker’ earlier this year [...]

  • 'Cats' Will Be Done in Time

    'Cats' Will Compete for Golden Globes After All (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Cats,” one of the most puzzling offerings of this holiday movie season, will likely be competing for the Golden Globes after all. Earlier reports had suggested that the film based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical about Jellicle cats would not be vying for end-of-year awards because it isn’t done yet. But sources tell Variety [...]

  • Nederland, Amsterdam, 20-11-2019-Opening Night in CarrÈ

    Gender Parity, Inclusion and Young Talent Take Center Stage at IDFA Opening

    The 32nd International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) opened Wednesday with gender parity, inclusion, and young talent front and center. Twenty-one year-old Canadian-Vietnamese director Carol Nguyen — whose short “No Crying at the Dinner Table” screens at the festival — kicked off the evening, reflecting IDFA’s commitment to young talent and women filmmakers. Nguyen said [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content