Picture this in your mind: an energetic, rowdy kid is running throughout the house without a care in the world. Because he’s not really paying attention to what he’s doing, he accidentally knocks over a priceless vase owned by his parents. Terrified of getting into trouble, he takes the broken pieces and haphazardly puts them back together. The end result is a busted up mess that kind of resembles what it’s really supposed to be. Now, replace the vase with the new film Dolittle, and you have a pretty good idea of how the studio handled it.
This new incarnation of the classic story by author Hugh Lofting puts former Avengers star Robert Downey Jr. in the role of the iconic Dr. John Dolittle. Set seven years after the death of his wife, Dolittle has become a recluse, with only his collection of animal friends for company. He no longer enjoys the presence of humans and resents the idea of ever having contact with the outside world again.
That is, until he is called on to an important mission. A ward of Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) informs him that she is gravely ill. The key to her cure lies in the one adventure Dolittle was never able to finish; a mysterious island with a rumored tree that can cure anything. Along with a boy named Stubbins (Harry Collett), who aspires to learn his ways, Dolittle reluctantly accepts and sets out on a journey that will help him rediscover who he really is.
You would think that this would be a recipe for success. The film is based on a popular source material, has a massive A-list cast, and has an almost $200 million budget. But never have so many major ingredients been wasted as badly as this. Dolittle squanders pretty much every last one of its assets and ends up a soulless, CGI shell of film that’s sloppily directed, lazily written, and poorly rendered, with very obvious reshot material that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Everything really begins with Robert Downey Jr. Even though he seemed like a good choice at the time, turns out he is gloriously miscast. He just doesn’t work as the character of Dr. Dolittle. Not only that, but this is undoubtedly the worst performance of his career. He totes the line between taking the role seriously and just collecting a paycheck, and never really strikes an entertaining balance. He just looks bored, and ends up dragging the film down with him.
But it’s not just Downey that doesn’t work. Pretty much no one works in their respective roles. The entire voice cast of animals never once feel like they enjoy playing their characters. The only one that kind of works is John Cena as Yoshi the polar bear, but even he doesn’t bring the character to life. He just succeeds in making his character half-way watchable. In the end, the voice cast just feels like their narrating the animals rather than playing characters.
The reported reshoots, while designed to make the film better, only really succeed in ruining it further. The film they’ve made only feels like a collection of scenes slapped together to make a semi-coherent story. This is perpetuated by the constant use of cuts and abundance of painfully obvious audio replacements.
It’s hard to enjoy the movie when it’s so clear how many pieces of dialogue needed to be changed during the reshoots and rewrites. Many of the on-screen human characters never actually say their lines while they’re on-screen, and if they are, their mouths are covered. This makes it distractingly obvious how much was redone, and the little effort they put in to making it feel natural just ends up hampering the film.
Dolittle would have been a fun film to look forward to if Universal had put the effort into making it look good despite the fact that it’s a total trash fire. But they didn’t, and as a result, it already didn’t look that great. The trailers can only partially prepare you for the whole product. This film wastes every last one of its assets on an incoherent mess of a film that feels like it should have been shelved; released after another year of reshoots and reedits to try and make it resemble what it could’ve been. But instead, we got something that is more painful than cutting yourself on a shard of the broken vase.