Review: Robert Downey Jr.'s 'Dolittle' does little to impress

(Universal Pictures, via CNN)

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VICTORIAN ENGLAND — With 2019 being one of the best years for movies in a decade, it is really difficult to see it go. 2020 starts off with a whimper as we get the release of "Dolittle" starring Robert Downey Jr. in his first role since "Avengers: Endgame."

"Dolittle" is a take on the 1920’s series of books called "The Story of Doctor Dolittle" by Hugh Lofting. The foundation of the film, as in the books, is based on a veterinarian who can speak with animals.

In this version, Downey takes a shot at bringing the "Dolittle" character to life in what is supposed to be an epic tale that spans the globe.

With a huge and talented cast, "Dolittle" had what appeared to be all the right ingredients to make it at least a passable movie for the new year. For reasons not entirely clear, those ingredients never quite jelled and what we ended up with was something of a gooey mess.

Here's a look at what went wrong, and maybe a couple of things that went right.

The bad

It isn't funny

The tone of this film was meant to be light and fun with a lot of jokes for kids and adults spread throughout. What we got was a lackluster performance from Downey and a script that failed at almost every attempt to be funny.

A lot of the humor is what we like to refer to in my house as "potty humor," but that wasn’t even enough to keep the film above water. There are too many one-liner wisecracks to count, which all add up to very little funny.

To be fair, I did chuckle out loud on a couple of occasions, but now I can’t even remember what they were. Downey is usually very comedically in touch with the audience, but in this film he was just not delivering.

There are some major disconnects

This film was set in early Victorian England, with all of the great scenery and set design that comes with a period piece from around this time. All is well visually with this film until we start to run into problems as we are introduced to the animal characters.

For some unknown reason, rather than writing the dialogue in something that sounded like Victorian English, all of the animal dialogue is written in modern American cliche. With the voice talent of Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, and Marion Cotillard, to name a few, we have what can arguably be called a brilliant cast. I am sure if they had been given good material, we would have heard some brilliant performances. Instead, the entire dialogue sounded like every other animated animal movie made in the last 10 years with all of the cliched characters intact.

I like to compare the dialogue to what we might get if the "Fast and the Furious" franchise was based around talking animals, but worse. To add to the problems, Downey attempted to speak with what he described as a Welsh accent rather than his more-than-capable British accent he has used in many other movies. The result is what feels like a completely disconnected voice from the performance. It's almost as if all of his dialogue was dubbed over after the filming was complete.

The animation is poor

It is a little frustrating to be so hard on this movie because, as I watched it, I felt like it could have been so much better. The idea was not ill-conceived; the execution was.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the animation and presentation of the animal characters. So many times throughout the movie we are bombarded with wacky animal scenarios that require the contortion of animals’ bodies to accomplish whatever feat is required of them — like a giraffe charging down the narrow streets of old England to catch a ship.

The ideas behind these scenes are fine and could have possibly been entertaining if they were not so poorly animated. Sight lines between real-world actors and computer-generated characters rarely lined up, and the physics of movement never felt right.

These are the types of things that take the viewer out of the story and disrupt what should be the seamless journey we expect to be taken on when we pay for our ticket and sit down in the theater.

The good

You can hope for a better film

For whatever reason, as I cringed my way through this film I kept imagining an alternate universe where the execution of this film lived up to its potential. In some strange way, imagining what could have been rather than what was kept me slightly more entertained throughout the movie than if I had been only a passive observer.

It could possibly be entertaining to the very young

If you have a child who is around the age of 4 or 5, they will probably be relatively entertained by the film. Anyone older than about 5 or 6 will start to see through the thin plotline and the poorly executed animation and dialogue, which may inspire them to write their own generally negative review of the film.

Is it worth watching?

This film just gets it wrong on so many levels, but it is also the only thing fresh in theaters that you haven't already seen during the holidays. If you must go to a movie and want to take your kids, just be aware there is a good chance they may judge you for it later.

At some point, we have all wondered "What would I do if I could speak to animals?" After seeing 'Dolittle,' you may choose to change the topic when they ask you what you thought of the film.

"Dolittle" is rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief language.

David Clyde

About the Author: David Clyde

David comes from a family of "movie people" of which there are actors, screenwriters, a set designer, a director and yes, a couple of movie reviewers. When David isn't busy living in the real world, he is busy living in someone else's version of it on a movie screen. David is a regular on the KSL Popcorn Report podcast. Contact him at and on Twitter at @DC_Reviews.

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Dave Clyde comes from a family of "movie people" of which there are actors, screenwriters, a set designer, a director and yes, a couple of movie reviewers. When Dave isn't busy living in the real world, he is busy living in someone else's version of it on a movie screen.


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