Almost universally condemned to be a ‘flop’ before it was released, Robert Downey Jr’s passion project ‘Dolittle’ seems to have fallen foul of an adult critical groupthink who, while quick to remonstrate with critics who differ in gender, ethnicity or sexuality who criticise a work ‘not meant for them’, have singularly failed to take into account that ‘Dolittle’ isn’t meant for them either. “Dolittle” is a movie for kids – sure, kids of all ages if you like – but definitely for actual, real kids who revel in a sweet and silly tale of a doctor who can talk to animals and who travels halfway around the world to find a special flower to cure the poisoned Queen of England.
Seeing it with the Cragglings, seeing it through their eyes, opened up this cynical reviewer’s heart to embrace this chaotic whirling dervish of flatulating fauna and truth be told, I had a lot of fun. Downey Jr’s Welsh[?] accent may wander the globe more than his whale-powered sailing ship but that doesn’t diminish the energy and likability of his performance. His non-animal supporting cast, featuring the likes of Michael Sheen, Harry Collett and a scenery-chewing Antonio Banderas are clearly having fun and the who’s who of hoots and howls voicing the animals are good value too.
Sure, the heavy use of narration (provided by Emma Thompson’s matronly macaw Polynesia) belies the heavy scars of the cutting and recutting the film has endured on its troubled journey to box office ignominy and yes, at times it appears to be pulling story ideas out of its arse (occasionally literally) but there’s something about it, and the grand folly of its big-budget production, that reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen” – in all the best ways.
The childish humour and silly antics may provoke grown-up eye rolls but every single joke plays like gangbusters with the target audience. It may do little for a mature audience, but it does a lot for the little ones.