After a car crash, Doctor Dolittle finds he can understand everything that animals say. First he has to accept his new skill, then learn to use it
Given the recent track record of chattering creature movies, remaking the 1967 Rex Harrison starrer (based on Hugo Lofting’s children’s charmer) about a doctor who could talk to animals must have seemed such a good idea. Add to that a director with an able track record in comedies (The Brady Bunch, Private Parts), and Murphy, and the results should really have spoken for themselves. And in terms of box office – enough to spawn a pitiful sequel – they did. But no amount of talent can disguise what a lacklustre vehicle this is.
As John Dolittle, Murphy is a respected medic, whose ability to converse with the animal kingdom has been buried since childhood when, in a dreary prologue, his chats with his dog (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) are curbed by an “exorcism”. But it only takes a quick bang on the bonce on night, while swerving his car to avoid a stray dog, for it all to come flooding back. Cue problems with Murphy and movie alike; while word gets round and he finds himself doling out treatment to the furry and feathered clients that flock to him, the movie seems unsure of where to go after is one joke is spent. Thus we are left with a beautifully crafted animatronic menagerie (courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) who, presumably because their natter is regarded as enough of a selling point, are given nothing to do but fire off cheap one-liners and irritate their human star. The staples of an arch villain an strong storyline are absent, leaving merely a display of frantic, forced Murphy mugging and a mawkish subplot about a suicidal circus tiger that’ll have ‘em vomiting in the aisles. There’s no denying Doctor Dolittle is slickly put together – the set pieces featuring man and animal are impressive – unspoilt by any evidence of blue-screening or special effects wizardry – but it’s just too bad everything else is such a bland disappointment.
The effects and Murphy's performance are good, but not enough to save this mediocre kids flick.