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Family Movie Review: Dolittle (PG)

‘Dolittle’ is firmly unfunny, a movie whose comedic style is built on copying other films.

Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. ‘Dolittle’ gleans most of its humor from the antics of the animals, who are given human-like personalities. Some elements might be slightly scary (a gorilla is terrified of everything because of his history in captivity) but most are pretty juvenile; there’s a lot of bathroom humor, and an extended scene involving an animal passing gas and having things removed from its behind. A character’s death is pivotal to another character’s development; a child goes hunting and accidentally shoots an animal; there are some scenes of naval warfare, including cannonfire; some scary moments with a tiger who wants to kill Dolittle; another animal attack that results in a few deaths and a character falling down a crevasse; animals joke about killing themselves, being unlucky in love, or not being “tough” enough.

By Roxana Hadadi

Robert Downey Jr.’s passion project “Dolittle” arrives with a slew of CGI animals voiced by popular actors, and very little else of note. The script is overly reliant on the kind of juvenile humor that seemed edgy back in the days of “Shrek” and “Austin Powers”; a character provides narration for about half the movie and then abandons that device; the animals never quite look real enough for the danger they’re in to matter. The A-list voice cast here is impressive — Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, and more — but “Dolittle” doesn’t have much impact.

Dolittle2 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThe film introduces Dr. John Dolittle (Downey) as an eccentric physician who has the magical ability to communicate with all animals, from insects to mammals to reptiles. He was known around the world for his open-heartedness and daring sense of adventure, but after his wife’s death at sea, Dolittle shut himself away, retreating into the manor gifted to him by Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). For seven years, he’s refused visitors and refused to open his doors — until one morning, when local boy Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) accidentally shoots a squirrel and asks for Dolittle’s help, and when Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), a member of the Royal Family, visits Dolittle to ask for his help tending to the ill Queen Victoria.

Although Dolittle is frustrated with humanity after his wife’s death, he’s swayed by the injured Kevin the squirrel (voiced by Craig Robinson), and by the knowledge that if the queen dies from her mysterious illness, the manor she gifted him will go back to the state, with Dolittle and all the animals evicted. So he decides to travel to the palace and help the young sovereign, a decision that then leads Dolittle on an adventure across the sea to a mysterious island that might hold the antidote that could save the queen.

Most of the jokes in “Dolittle” come from the animals, who are given broad, wacky personalities: Chee-Chee the gorilla (voiced by Rami Malek) is afraid of everything, screaming at Stubbins when he arrives at the door; Yoshi the polar bear (voiced by John Cena) hates the cold; Plimpton the ostrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) is fussy and irritable; and Poly the macaw (voiced by Emma Thompson) almost treats Dolittle like a child. Each of the animals is only given one or two personality details, which are then hammered home over and over again. For the most part, they’re just silly — like when Yoshi and Plimpton form a friendship after Yoshi slaps the ostrich in the face repeatedly — but Chee-Chee’s character does grow to overcome his fears, which is an important lesson for young viewers. And as a hyperactive dragonfly, Jason Mantzoukas delivers the most legitimate laughs, although his humor — including jokes about flying into a brick wall after he’s rejected romantically — are more focused at adults.

In addition to the animal antics, “Dolittle” relies almost exclusively on pretty base-level humor — Dolittle getting vomited on, Dolittle getting a face full of a fart, Dolittle dealing with the messier parts of being a veterinarian. Some of that might be initially funny but the novelty wears off, in particular as the film copies elements from other pop culture properties like “Shrek,” the “Austin Powers” franchise, and even “Star Trek.” The movie lacks its own true personality aside from “messily goofy,” and neither Downey’s spotty Welsh accent nor the heavy-handed CGI do “Dolittle” any favors.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.   

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