The fourth big-screen incarnation of Hugh Lofting’s eccentric naturalist manages to be even worse than the others.



Its heart may be in the right place, but it is difficult to find anything positive to say about this unfortunate, misconceived project. The original Dr Dolittle made in 1967, with Rex Harrison as the eponymous hero, was by no means perfect, but it was charming and delightful and looks like a masterpiece compared to this.


Robert Downey Jr not only plays the eccentric Doctor who talks to the animals with a dodgy Welsh accent but also acts as producer, along with Mrs Downey Jnr, which makes them personally responsible for this catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. The eccentric doctor, following his wife’s death, is now a recluse hiding in his mansion with his animals. But now he must embark on a long journey to a distant island in order to find a secret medicine for a dying Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley).


The plot doesn’t make much sense, especially during the sequences with Antonio Banderas as King Rasoulli (who appears to be a different character in each scene) – it seems likely that most of his part ended on the cutting room floor. Stephen Gaghan, the serious, sophisticated writer-director of Syriana, was clearly the wrong choice for this production. A lot of talent is wasted, especially in the voice department, and an ill-fated decision to re-shoot some of the scenes with the animals talking to the doctor in giant close-ups makes the film look even sillier and more awkward (especially if seen in Imax). It is dull, witless and utterly unfunny.




Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jessie Buckley, Kasia Smutniak, Harry Collett, Jim Broadbent, Ralph Ineson, Joanna Page, Sonny Ashbourne Serkis, and the voices of Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour.


Dir Stephen Gaghan, Pro Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum and Susan Downey, Screenplay Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, from a story by Thomas Shepherd, Ph Guillermo Navarro, Pro Des Dominic Watkins, Ed Craig Alpert, Music Danny Elfman, Costumes Jenny Beavan.


Roth/Kirschenbaum Films/Team Downey/Perfect World Pictures-Universal Pictures.

101 mins. USA/China/UK. 2020. Rel: 7 February 2020. Cert. PG.