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‘Dolittle’ Review: A Disappointing Mix Of ‘House,’ ‘Batman Beyond’ And ‘Ducktales’

Too short and thus too rushed and overstuffed, this surface-level entertaining hybrid of House, Batman Beyond and Duck Tales is less interesting than the story that preceded or and/or the one that will potentially follow.

Yes, $175 million is a ridiculous amount of money, no matter what did or didn’t happen behind the scenes, for a live-action Doctor Dolittle movie. Barring a miracle, the film will likely be another example of the folly of presuming that IP is valuable just because it’s IP, even with a known entity like Robert Downey Jr. producing and starring in the effects-filled flick. That it cost so much is likely to be the explanation for its doom, and another example of how sky-high budgets have threatened the viability of both “just for kids” fantasy adventures and original/new-to-you sci-fi fantasy spectaculars that once defined the would-be blockbuster.

But considering that the film’s ticket price is now higher because it cost $175 million than if it had cost $90 million, the film’s ridiculous budget only matters so much. As a movie, the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle is an exercise in frustration. It’s no secret that the film underwent significant reshoots, ones overseen not by credited director Stephen Gaghan but by Jonathan Liebesman with scripting help from Chris McKay, and the 88-minutes-plus-credits feels like the Cliff Notes version of a longer, richer and frankly better film. Moreover, a key problem is the choice to tell the wrong Doctor Dolittle story, with the film’s prologue and epilogue hinting at more satisfying journeys.

Seven years after his wife’s death at sea, John Dolittle (Downey Jr.) has become a hermit. Once upon a time, he was a famed physician of both humans and animals, thanks to an fantastical ability to communicate with animals. But now he has huddled away like Bruce Wayne in (pick one) Batman Beyond or The Dark Knight Rises, with only his animals to keep him company. But two concurrent events take place that threaten to get him back into the world. But when a young boy (Harry Collett) with aspirations of being Dolittle’s apprentice shows up concurrently with news that Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) has fallen ill, Dolittle is persuaded to do that thing he does.

So Doctor John Dolittle shaves off “sad Bruce Wayne beard” recluse and takes off with his would-be Terry McGinnis in tow along with his collection of talking animals. As the headline implies, Dolittle is played not unlike Dr. Gregory House, where his social ills and general rudeness are forgiven due to his past trauma and knack for solving medical mysteries. That Hugh Laurie’s character was a medical version of Sherlock Holmes, played by Downey Jr. in two previous $500 million-plus smash hits, adds a metatext to this would-be franchise starter. That Downey’s accent makes him sound exactly like Scrooge McDuck makes sense since the film’s second and third acts play like an episode of Duck Tales.

If I’ve made this film sound better than it is, that’s because none of these pieces really get time to breathe. The film is quite short and yet still finds time for trailer-friendly action sequences and random comic interludes with the animals (of course voiced by various celebrities). I’m not saying Dolittle needed to be a drama, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with “epic-ifying” Doctor Dolittle (as producer Joe Roth groundbreakingly did with Alice in Wonderland ten years ago), but the comedy rarely feels natural, while the drama feels held back by the need for kid-friendly antics. And it is at its best when it embraces its own character-specific drama, as is the case with Antonio Banderas’ glorified cameo.

This is a film for children, and it’s a light, colorful, breezy, mega-budget adventure comedy. And there is amusement to be found in Michael Sheen’s heel turn, Banderas’s shaded anti-hero and Downey Jr. himself when he lets down his guard just a bit. Moreover, as noted above, the film’s prologue tells of Dolittle and his wife engaging in world-traveling animal rescues adventures together, which sounds like loads of fun. The epilogue implies that (spoilers, I guess) Dolittle has gotten his groove back and will return to doing what he does best. Alas, this film is that awkward middle chapter, not quite an origin but still constrained by us having to wait for our title character to “become” Dolittle again.

I don’t know how this film was reshaped over the course of production, but what we got is essentially a glorified tease for all the ways in which the film could have worked (medical mystery, globe-trotting adventure, passing-the-torch, etc.), without running time for any of them to come alive. I don’t know whether a longer movie, one with more human interaction alongside the animal antics and fantasy action elements, would have been a more rewarding experience, but Dolittle feels like a compromised tease of a pretty interesting reinvention. It is surface-level entertaining, but it plays like George Lucas only releasing Attack of the Clones (in its cut-down IMAX version) sans the first and third Star Wars prequels.

The post ‘Dolittle’ Review: A Disappointing Mix Of ‘House,’ ‘Batman Beyond’ And ‘Ducktales’ appeared first on SuccessDigest.

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