Dolittle begins with a lovely animated clip that quickly fleshes out a tragic backstory for Dr. Dolittle, injecting quick and underdeveloped emotion into the story. Not only that, but it quickly fridges Dr. Dolittle’s wife, Lily, establishing why he’s a sad hermit in the movie's exposition. Perhaps if Dolittle had simply been this animation about Dr. Dolittle and Lily exploring the world and rescuing animals, it might have actually been enjoyable.
The thing is Dolittle isn’t offensive to the eyes or sensibilities like Cats. It's just entirely forgettable, sacrificing quality because it's meant for children. There's no redeeming facet to the plot, no heartwarming moral or teaching.
Ultimately, Dolittle is a movie that fails to come together, foregoing character and narrative to connect a series of disparate plot points. The film shifts from a comedy and action to a pirate film and then a dragon–filled fantasy. The aesthetic is oddly anachronistic, set in Victorian England, yet all of the animals retain modern, often American, accents.
Dr. Dolittle is introduced as a strange mix of Tarzan and a Disney princess being dressed by animals. Robert Downey Jr. gruffly mumbles his way through the script with an unidentifiable accent that seems to shift from scene to scene (apparently, it was supposed to be Welsh).
The animals and the humans exist in what feels like two different films, because the animals are actually occasionally funny. Kumail Nanjiani as an anxious ostrich and Craig Robinson (The Office's Darryl Philbin) as an angry squirrel are the only notable performances. The human characters are bland, and there are no main female characters who aren’t animals—and, if this wasn't already implied, none of them are well–developed.
The entire film lacks a sense of whimsy and magic, something that should have been easy to inspire in a movie about talking animals. It was hardly funny, though many lines were delivered with the cadence of a joke. Maybe the well–rendered CGI and cheap laughs will keep children focused on the screen, but, for adults, the film fades into the background almost instantly.
Except for one scene. A climactic emotional moment occurs when Dr. Dolittle finally reflects on his all–consuming grief over his wife’s death ... by talking to a dragon. Of course, the dragon is widowed and in pain, proving to be an easy way to pull the movie and its ham–fisted theme about grief together.
But instead, Dr. Dolittle realizes the dragon has an anal blockage and ends up fisting her as she farts in his face.
The whiplash following such an emotional scene almost gave me brain damage, especially because the rest of the movie avoided such cheap, disgusting gags.
The thing is that Dolittle wasn’t a heinous cinematic tragedy—at least those get talked about. It was almost something worse: a very boring movie, a forgettable remake that didn’t need to exist.
With this in mind, it’s shocking to see just how star–studded the cast is, especially among the voice actors. Critically acclaimed actors like Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, and Ralph Fiennes, among many others, provided their considerable acting abilities to this thoroughly mediocre film.
This is a recurring trend among objectively bad animated films. Cats is still burned in the retinas and brains of all who watched it, but, despite everything wrong with it, perhaps the most surprising is how many amazing actors are in it. We’re talking Dame Judi Dench, Idris Elba, and Ian McKellen amongst younger stars. The same thing happened with more traditionally animated films like Sausage Party and The Nut Job.
All of these films boast almost absurdly overqualified casts and low ratings, either among audiences, critics, or both. For animated films, especially with large voice–acting casts, big names are no longer an accurate way to assess the quality of a film.
Perhaps stars are more amenable to take on work in animated films, especially in voice acting positions, because it is a comparatively low–risk venture (though not in the case of Cats, whose cast and crew are still working to distance themselves from the film). After all, if the film is a hit, stars will be associated with extremely popular characters, with the chance to make money from sales of merchandise, like toys. If it’s a flop, most people tend to forget about the name behind the animation.
However, if award–winning actors do this work out of love for the children who will end up watching the film, it is simply tragic that they end up signing on to low–quality, doomed productions.