Dr. Dolittle (1998) / Comedy-Fantasy
aka Doctor Dolittle
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude humor and language
Running time: 85 min.
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, Kyla Pratt, Raven-Symone, Oliver Platt, Paul Giamatti, Norm MacDonald (voice), Chris Rock (voice), Albert Brooks (voice), Garry Shandling (voice), Ellen DeGeneres (voice), John Leguizamo (voice), Julie Kavner (voice), Peter Boyle, Ossie Davis, Richard Schiff, Jeffrey Tambor, Brian Doyle-Murray (voice), Jenna Elfman (voice), Gilbert Gottfried (voice), Paul Reubens (voice), Pruitt Taylor Vince (cameo)
Director: Betty Thomas
Screenplay: Nat Mauldin, Larry Levin
Review published July 7, 2007
Very loosely based on the classic kid's books by Hugh Lofting, Dr. Dolittle casts Eddie Murphy (The Distinguished Gentleman, Boomerang) as the titular San Francisco doctor, who discovers that he has the uncanny ability to hear and talk back to all forms of animals. It's bad timing, as his hospital is about to be bought out by a powerful HMO group, and they wouldn't take kindly to having crazy doctors around. Nevertheless, Dolittle finds a new calling in trying to help these animals in need, although it comes at great cost to his reputation, and strains his relations with his family. They all think the doctor is in need of healing himself.
Dr. Dolittle will probably gain plenty of laughs from the younger set, mostly because the humor delves early and often into the potty humor bag for easy laughs. Eddie Murphy doesn't really have to do a great deal, as the film's best gags belong to the animals themselves, rendered mostly with CGI lip movements, featuring famous comedians like Chris Rock (Beverly Hills Ninja), Garry Shandling (Trust the Man), Albert Brooks (The Scout) and others handling the voice work.
Although the film cost a whopping $70+ million to make, the gamble paid off, as it would go on to earn nearly $300 million worldwide. Murphy continues to remake films that inject his often-crude sense of humor amid special effects galore, much like he did with The Nutty Professor. Unfortunately, while these films are certainly lucrative, they do little in terms of restoring his superstar status among his fans of his 1980s films. He's a talented man, wasting them on junk like Dr. Dolittle purely for monetary gain.
I'm not really sure how the whole animal talking thing works. It seems that not only can Dolittle understand the animals, but these animals can actually speak English, and utilize human slang as well. Beyond this, Dolittle even can see these animals mouth the words and gesticulate while doing so, and yet, no one else can. Interesting, not only can Dolittle talk with the animals, but these animals can apparently also talk to each other in a unified language as well. You also have to believe that a pediatrician can also double as a veterinarian, and an optometrist in one scene where he constructs glasses for a wall-eyed horse. I wonder if he also practices dentistry. I guess suspension of disbelief is a must in order to truly get into the film. The fact that I bothered thinking about such things is only an indication that I wasn't as into it as I should have been.
The jokes are mostly bad, only occasionally stumbling into something bordering amusing, mostly because the animals are cute enough, and the comedians who voice them sometimes clever enough, to elicit laughs when they say something witty, which isn't often. The laughs are cheap, but the filmmakers know their juvenile-minded audience. With such a disposable storyline, it's strange that they would bother injecting a terrible subplot involving the HMO takeover for reasons that merit little in terms of laughs or increased interest. What little momentum the film has screeches to a halt whenever dealing with the more serious issues at hand.
Outside of the special effects and puppetry (courtesy of Jim Henson's group), there doesn't seem to have been much effort into making a good film here, merely serving up just enough to get by and still turn a profit at the box office. Minimal effort, minimal returns, as Dr. Dolittle lives up to its name by doing as little as possible. For a film that ultimately contains the theme that money isn't everything in life, a purely commercial venture like Dr. Dolittle might have kept up his Hippocratic Oath, but broke the hypocritical one.
-- Previously made in 1967. Followed by Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001), and the Murphy-less straight-to-video release, Dr. Dolittle 3 (2006).
©2007 Vince Leo