This is a kid’s movie, this is a kid’s movie, this is a kid’s movie...
The mantra may help if you find yourself seated in a theater watching Robert Downey Jr. mumble his way through a subpar Welsh accent in “Dolittle,” though you may not find much comfort in that.
Yes, this is a kid’s movie, but give the kids a bit more credit.
Written and directed by Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan of “Syriana,” “Dolittle” is a mess, potentially stemming from extensive reshoots and a pushed premiere date, or it could just be the story is downright awful.
We start with an animated prologue introducing us to the good doctor John Dolittle (Downey Jr.) and his wife, Lily (Kasia Smutniak) as they embark on several adventures, saving animals and bringing them to live in their English manor turned nature preserve thanks to an order of Queen Victoria. But tragedy strikes when Lily decides to journey on her own quest, leaving John behind. Well, she’s lost at sea, leaving John in a state of extreme depression, shutting his doors to the outside world completely and living as a hermit among his menagerie of animal friends.
The animation ends and we meet Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) as he is being essentially forced to shoot a duck along with his uncle (Who he lives with? Is a ward of? Who knows.). He misses and shoots a squirrel, voiced by Craig Robinson, instead and is coaxed by the parrot Polynesia, voiced by Emma Thompson, to go to Dolittle Manor to save him.
There, he meets Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who, conveniently, is also searching for the doctor so he may go to Buckingham Palace to help save the queen who has taken gravely ill.
The two children both convince Dolittle to not only save the squirrel but also to travel to the palace, because if the queen dies, he’ll lose the preserve.
Turns out the queen has been poisoned — by a Dr. Müdfly, played by Michael Sheen — and Dolittle knows of only one mythical plant that can save her, so he and Stubbins embark “on a perilous journey” to find it, which also happens to be how his wife died.
This all happens so incredibly quickly with such uninteresting development that you couldn’t care less about the characters, animal or human. Both Lady Rose and Stubbins are more plot devices than actual characters, once their purpose is served, they’re pretty useless to the story.
There are more questions than answers in this film, and unfortunately no one really cares — audience or producers — what those answers are.
The choice with this film to use entirely computer generated imagery animals was probably wise considering the issues the 1967 production had with real ones, but it is so jarring and poorly rendered in that it takes the viewer right out of the action whenever they talk.
It is riddled with too many groan inducing jokes, overuse of fart jokes, or just not clever uses of them, jumpy cuts that make no sense, poor dialogue, zero amount of characterization and not enough story to fill the 100-minute run time “Dolittle” should have stayed in his manor.