Can someone check on Universal? Are they alright? Like are things going okay with them? I just feel like they’re going through a real rough time right now and they’re acting out.
That’s the only way I can explain Dolittle (2020). After failing for the fourth time in recent years to create a franchise based on Universal Monsters - Van Helsing (2004), The Wolfman (2010), Dracula Untold (2014) and The Mummy (2017) - what other options are there to turn to, other than a remake of a lacklustre 1967 film based on a children's book that no one remembers other than that one song? Not even mentioning the already successful remake of that same film from another studio 20 years prior that was so successful it actually spawned a franchise (granted, the majority of them went straight to DVD).
Pictured: that's right, there were five of them.
Okay, so I’m late to the party, but after hearing all of the behind the scenes nonsense about this movie, I had to see it. I just never had the time before today. I guess you could say, sometimes good things can come from a pandemic. Though, I don't know whether I could call this one of those times.
After accidentally shooting a squirrel, a character that should by all rights be the protagonist, Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) follows a parrot that suddenly appears to guide him to the home of the titular Dr Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.); an animal-talking, former doctor, current vet, who has saved the Queen and is recently widowed (we know this due to an animated intro sequence). At this exact moment, the aforementioned Queen has sent a messenger, her daughter, to see Dr Dolittle so he can save her again, but this time in more than a brief mention during an animated intro sequence. Dolittle declines, until two separate characters that are unrelated and don’t talk to each other, re-iterate the fact that if the Queen dies, Dolittle will lose his property.
Man, talk about convenient.
Talking about convenience, Dolittle visits the Queen whose physician just happens to be an old rival of Dolittle's from back when they were studying, and as luck would have it, the only thing that can save the Queen is the very thing that his wife was looking for before she died.
Are you starting the see the problem with the story yet?
There is absolutely no natural progression; it is just convenience after convenience, stacked up on top of one another. Tommy, the character who we technically kind of follow but in just a half-hearted way, also discovers that he can learn how to speak to animals, too! He teaches himself. Literally no one else in the world has been able to do that except Dolittle, but hey, this kid who was hunting in a forest nearby, just happens to be able to learn that one skill that Dolittle's famous for.
I wish I could say it was at least brisk, but the film is so bogged down in random subplots that never amount to anything, that it feels like it goes on forever. At least I could say that each of the animal characters have some quirk that they resolve in the end, but they are just handled with a, “oh, I guess that’s not a problem anymore”.
This film is such a mess, it’s hard to boil down to what it’s actually about. I think it’s easy to say that the film is about depression and loss, but the way the movie handles this is so haphazard that it’s hard to believe they were trying to say anything.
Dr Dolittle (1998) at least made the minimum effort of a family movie theme, which is: daddy issues. I could argue that Dolittle (2020) does the same with the Tommy Stubbins' character. Dolittle starts off by rejecting him, but eventually accepts him as his apprentice. However, even the film doesn’t care enough about Tommy to give him more of a character arc than, “I really want a daddy”.
Teamwork is definitely explored, and probably the theme explored most thoroughly. As John Cena’s polar bear character poetically states, “Teamwork makes the dream work”. Granted, this is right after the climactic scene where all the animals hold down a dragon whilst Dolittle uses a leek to clear out her bowels, but I think his point stands.
The most interesting stuff about this film are all of the behind the scenes' messes that leaked before the film released. The director had no idea what he was doing, and boy, is that noticeable: the acting is either bland or ridiculous, the pacing is all over the place, the story gives you nothing to care about. Frankly, it’s a surprise there’s a movie to review at all.
Pictured: the Johnny Depp method of acting: being a mess and dressing silly.
I want to say it’s a good thing that all of the animals are CGI, because that means that there was no animal cruelty and that is indeed a good thing. On the other hand, it’s noticeable. The visual effects already seem dated and the film came out two months ago. Whilst writing this review, I’m watching the 1998 film on the side, and the animals jump between puppets and real animals with CGI mouths, so even though it may be obvious that the animals aren’t really talking, at least they’re really there.
I was really hoping to watch Dolittle and have a genuine ball, laughing at all the dumb stuff that I had heard. I went in knowing all about the anal-probing-a-dragon scene, and maybe the hype ruined it for me, but this was just a slog. So much of the humour was just not funny. I had heard people say that the comedy is at least funny for kids, and sure, there are some really basic jokes like, “hey, the polar bear fell on it’s butt,” and, “the duck confuses medical equipment with vegetables but the doctor still keeps her as his assistant so there are definitely patients dying because that bit went for way too long,” but nothing is funny.
Pictured: a running gag that definitely resulted in a few deaths
At least the first remake had animal puns and Eddie Murphy being Eddie Murphy. It’s a very different style of comedy and it had really outdated pop culture references. But it worked! This didn’t work. On any level. Even a dragon butt. And a dragon fart. How do you make a dragon fart not funny? And oddly CGI bagpipes?
Pictured: A dragon's fart being very unfunny.
At the very least, it made me go back and watch the first remake, and it was fun enough. It’s really weird seeing what was the same in both movies, seeming they are so incredibly different. For example, in ‘98 Paul Giamatti plays a bit part as Dr Blair, who was an old rival from med school, just like Michael Sheen’s Dr Blair in the 2020 film. I don’t know if that’s from the childrens’ books, but I know it’s not from the original film. There are a few jokes that are very similar. There's butt stuff in both. Real weird connections.
But otherwise, meh. Cats (2020) is still the must see so-bad-it's-good movie of this year.