Score: 4 of 7 – Dolittle isn’t exactly a great movie, but it’s not as bad as some have made it out to be. It’s passably entertaining. It’s the kind of movie that if you were on a plane and needed to kill a couple hours during the flight, this is exactly the sort of simple, breezy, forgettable movie that would perfect for that.
Talking animals is such a huge part of fairy-tales and stories that it’s often left me wondering; was there ever a time where it was actually possible to talk with animals? After all, there is that one instance of a talking donkey in the Bible (Numbers 22:28). Then there’s the logistics involved with getting all those animals onto the Ark; there must have been some communication involved there. Finally, in the Garden of Eden, when everything was as perfect as God intended and Adam is naming all the animals and what not—again this is pure, wild speculation—could it be possible that in that perfect setting there was more of an understanding, even some communication between humans and animals? Yeah, okay, maybe not, but I find it interesting that the desire to communicate with animals is such a deeply embedded and enduring desire that characters such as Dr. John Dolittle, the famous doctor who can talk with animals, remain a timeless part of our pop-culture. The animal talking doctor is back once again on the big screen, this time portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., with magical adventures and cute animals he has silly conversations with. And while the idea of talking with animals remains enticing, does that make for a film you should be enticed to see?
Dr. Dolittle has been portrayed as everything from a fast-talking modern doctor bewildered by his ability to hear animals to a calm and cool genius who takes his ability to talk with animals rather matter-of-factly. Downey’s version is somewhere in between. It’s a character that’s a bit reminiscent of his take on Sherlock Holmes, only a bit sillier and gentler. As my girls put it, it seems portrayals of “quirky” character is pretty much RDJ’s “thing” these days, as everyone from Tony Stark to Holmes to Dolittle seems to fit that mold in some way; but hey, he does it well and it’s still fun to watch, so why not?
Some may be put off this more light-hearted take on Dolittle, but this is clearly meant to be a film for the kids. After all, any movie that involves dragon flatulence as a gag is not one to take too seriously, and probably really isn’t aimed at adults as the main audience. This movie really feels like RDJ wanting to make something for his kids, and since he is Robert Downey Jr., well if he wants to make a sweet and silly Dolittle movie for his kids starring a bunch of his celebrity friends as voices of the animals, well then, that’s what he’s going to do. Who could say no to the man who heralded in the in era of the MCU and the concept of inter-connected movie universes?
Although this is a very much simple, silly, storybook kind of tale, it does have quit a bit of heart. It deals, in some ways quite profoundly, with the concepts of hope and loss. Some may be put off a bit by the fact that this Dolittle starts off as a bit of recluse due to the loss of his wife several years earlier, and while that may mean this Dr. Dolittle is a bit more dour, it also means he has room to grow, and to heal. Ultimately this movie is one that aims to provide hope, that there is hope for healing from the hurts that life sometimes inflicts on us. It’s easy, like Dolittle, to get run down and worn out by life. However, Jesus offers us hope to carry on. As he said in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) We all have heavy burdens in life that weigh and wear us down, but we don’t have to carry them alone. When we come to Jesus, he will provide hope, healing, help, and rest.
Dolittle is one of those movies that’s easy to dump on. It’s was delayed several years, and then finally released in January; usually a dumping grounds for movies that studios don’t really want anyone to see but kind of have to release any way. It’s in no way a great film. It clearly has a lot problems. It’s actually quite forgettable, I’m struggling to write this review because it’s so hard to really remember much of anything about the film. However, I do remember that it put a smile on face consistently enough. It had some decent humor, and a good heart. It’s not instant family classic, in fact it’s really the type of movie that I would only recommend if you have a couple hours to kill while on a flight. Then again, there’s nothing really all that bad about a movie that’s perfectly fine with just being a sweet and silly family adventure. Looking that many dour and dark films nominated for Oscars this year, maybe a little injection of sweet, silly child-like fun is what we need at the movies.