I suppose it might entertain very young children.
I have meditated on that single sentence above for minutes and even hours, wondering if I should leave it at that. Explaining the why and the how of this movie’s failure is baffling at best yet won’t even make for entertaining reading.
The story is weak yet convoluted. A physician/veterinarian (we have such a combo in our own family: Sean’s sister), Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) has sequestered himself behind the doors of his menagerie, gone full hermit since the death of his beloved wife. Luckily he has the unique ability to speak to animals in their native language, so he isn’t entirely alone, but his existence is notably and emphatically human-free. Until, that is, the day when not one but two children come calling.
The first is a boy who has accidentally shot a squirrel who needs immediate medical attention. The second is a girl sent from Queen Victoria’s palate where the Queen lays gravely ill, also requiring immediate medical attention. Dr. Dolittle, unhappy to be disturbed either way, treats the squirrel but needs convincing to attend to the Queen. In the Queen’s bedchambers he learns that she’s been poisoned and the antidote exists only on a faraway island. Dolittle, the boy Stubbins, and a bunch of animals of varying degrees of helpfulness, set sail on an epic adventure to find said cure.
They’re pursued by a villain with questionable motives, they subject us to a minutes-long fart joke (will small children even understand that Dolittle is rooting through a dragon’s anus with a leek, relieving it of all the undigested armor of the valiant knights she’s eaten for breakfast?).
I think the journey’s purpose is that Dolittle must learn he can grieve his wife without shutting himself off from the rest of humanity. They don’t exactly earn this, nor do they try very hard to express it.
The best and maybe only good part is an anxious ostrich voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. The worst part is, sadly, RDJ himself. He’s doing an indiscernible accent through which most of his dialogue is lost. He goes full nut when perhaps only half nut would have sufficed. His tone rarely matches that of the story. The poor guy has spent too many years acting in front of a green screen. I think for his first post-Ironman role he needed something a little more grounded but instead he went full fanciful and feels lost forever. Who can rescue his career now?
But Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t the only high-profile actor duped into signing on: Jim Broadbent, Michael Sheen, and Antonio Banderas all appear. Plus Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Tom Holland, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Marion Cotillard, and Jason Mantzoukas all lend their voice. And yet even standing on all these famous and famously talented shoulders, the film still cannot keep its head above water. Like an ostrich learning the hard way that he can neither fly nor swim, the movie simply adopts a dead man’s float and hopes a film goer or two might take a poke at its bloated corpse.