×
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.

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

  • Perfect Strangers

    Zhao Tao, Rajkumar Hirani Join Shanghai Festival Jury

    Italian director Paolo Genovese and Chinese actress Zhao Tao are among members of the jury for the upcoming Shanghai International Film Festival. They join the previously announced jury president, 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish director behind last year’s “The Wild Pear Tree.” Genovese’s 2016 film “Perfect Strangers” made $7.7 million [...]

  • ‘An Easy Girl’ Wins Cannes Directors’

    ‘An Easy Girl’ Wins Cannes Directors’ Fortnight French-language Movie Prize

    CANNES  —  One of France’s most highly-regarded young women filmmakers, Rebecca Zlotowski, has won the Directors’ Fortnight prize for best French-language movie for “An Easy Girl,” a sensual coming of age tale set on France’s Cote d’Azur. From reviews published to date, “An Easy Girl” marks a return to form for Zlotowski after the disappointment [...]

  • The Secret Life of Pets 2

    Film Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’

    Illumination’s “The Secret Life Of Pets” films do something the “Despicable Me” studio’s other offerings have yet to accomplish: They allow younger audiences to explore their feelings about new life experiences in a silly, lighthearted way through the travails of adorable animated animals. Despite being an overly loud and caustic clone of “Toy Story,” the [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Heads for $40 Million Opening

    Sony’s action comedy “Men in Black: International” is heading for a $40 million launch in North America on the June 14-16 weekend, early tracking showed Thursday. New Line’s opening of its “Shaft” sequel, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher and Richard Roundtree, should wind up in the $18 million range during the same frame, [...]

  • Shailene Woodley probation Dakota Pipeline protest

    Cannes: Shailene Woodley's 'Misanthrope' Bought for China Release

    Chinese sales and distribution company Infotainment China Media has bought the China rights to “Misanthrope,” the new serial killer thriller starring Shailene Woodley. The deal was concluded with FilmNation Entertainment on the margins of the Cannes Film Festival. Woodley (“Big Little Lies”, the “Divergent” franchise”) will play a cop recruited by the FBI to hunt [...]

  • Rotten Tomatoes

    Rotten Tomatoes Revamps Movie Audience Scores to Focus on Verified Ticket Buyers

    Rotten Tomatoes is dramatically changing its Audience Score methodology for movies: The site’s standard user rating will now reflect only moviegoers who can prove they’ve bought a ticket to see it in a theater. It’s another troll-fighting move by Rotten Tomatoes, designed to curb coordinated “review bombs” aimed at pushing down the Audience Score for [...]

  • Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s

    Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s ‘Encounter With Lux Prima’ Documentary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Karen O & Danger Mouse’s “Lux Prima” is one of the year’s best albums so far — but it’s more than an album. “An Encounter with Lux Prima – The Art of Collaboration,” a short documentary chronicling the 18-month development of their multisensory art installation “An Encounter With Lux Prima” premieres today exclusively on Variety. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content