“I’m going with you,” says young Harry Collett (Tommy Stubbins). “Certainly not!” Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) says. “It’s far too dangerous!” “Please,” Harry says, “don’t make me go home.” “Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?” asks Poly, CG talking macaw (voice of Emma Thompson). “I am!” says Harry. That’s the setup for “Dolittle,” in which the doctor and his animal and human friends seek magical fruit from Eden Island’s “Tree of Life,” the only cure for young Queen Victoria’s mysterious illness.
Can Harry learn to talk to animals like his mentor, Dr. Dolittle? Does villainous Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen) scuttle Dolittle’s mission to Eden Island? Will you be entertained by this muddle of a movie? I wasn’t, much.
As Dr. Dolittle, Robert Downey Jr. works hard to bring energy to this antic adventure comedy, but his ill-chosen, impossible-to-understand Welsh accent gets in the way. Subtitles would have helped. Other, easier to understand members of the large cast, include charming Harry Collett as Tommy Stubbins, Dolittle’s devoted apprentice, and young Carmel Laniado, Lady Rose of the Queen’s bedchamber. Jessie Buckley is Victoria. Bad guys — nasty royal physician, Dr. Blair Mudfly and duplicitous Lord Thomas Badgley — are well played by Michael Sheen and Jim Broadbent. Antonio Banderas has a good time as over-the-top King Rassouli, father of Dolittle’s deceased wife Lily (Kasia Smutniak in a cameo).
Emma Thompson leads the voice cast. She’s CG macaw Poly, offering good advice to Dolittle. Other animal voices include Rami Malek (gorilla Chi-Chi), John Cena (polar bear Yoshi), Kumail Nanjiani (ostrich Plimpton), Octavia Spencer (duck Dab-Dab), Tom Holland (dog Kevin), Ralph Fiennes (tiger Barry), and Selena Gomez (giraffe Betsy). Frances de la Tour and Jason Mantzoukas voice powerful dragon and unreliable dragonfly.
“Dolittle,” directed and co-written by Stephen Gaghan (with Dan Gregor, Doug Mand, Chris McKay and Thomas Shepherd), is based on characters created by Hugh Lofting. Previous Dolittle films starred Rex Harrison (1967) and Eddie Murphy (1998, 2001). Test audiences who saw this sequel, created two years ago, hated it. Tweaked and released again, “Dolittle” is still, says critic Matt Singer, an “unpleasant, incoherent mess.” I wouldn’t go that far but it is immediately forgettable. Younger viewers, with short attention spans, might be amused.
Rated PG for rude humor and language, “Dolittle” runs 101 minutes. You could miss it.
If your age is under 9,
“Dolittle” may suit you fine;
If you’re of an age like I’m,
It might be a waste of time.