‘Dolittle’ Movie Review: Robert Downey, Jr. Tries Too Hard and Loses the Magic

Dolittle is making its normally scheduled digital VOD release on March 24 as the film opened in January. Robert Downey, Jr.’s first movie after the Marvel Cinematic Universe did not go over well. However, people at home are now looking for new content to watch so the film is right on time. 

Robert Downey, Jr. in Dolittle
Robert Downey, Jr. | Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

Can viewers be more forgiving at home? Well, there’s still plenty of better movies to watch at home like The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Birds of Prey. You can still wait until Dolittle is included in another streaming service subscription before paying extra for it. 

Robert Downey Jr. Is Dr. Dolittle

Dolittle begins with a tragedy. Dr. Dolittle (Downey)’s wife Lily (Kasia Smutniak) went on a voyage without him and died at sea. So Dolittle has been moping around the house with only the animals he can talk to looking after him.

Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) visit the doctor bringing urgent news from the Queen (Jessie Buckley). She is ill and needs his expertise. So the animals groom Dolittle to meet the queen. Somehow he still has stubble after they shave him.

Dolittle: Robert Downey, Jr.
Robert Downey, Jr. | Universal Pictures

Dolittle recognizes the poison ailing the queen and goes on a quest for the antidote. Stubbins and the animals join the doctor on what was surely intended to be the first of many adventures. 

A CGI ‘Dolittle’ is not magical

Dolittle uses digital visual effects to bring its talking animals to life. Although the technology now exists to animate any sort of animal – including a feature length rendition of The Lion King – it sort of misses the point of the magic of talking animals. 

Robert Downey, Jr. and Harry Collett
L-R: Robert Downey, Jr. and Harry Collett | Universal Pictures

Movies like Babe made animals talk by either training them to move their lips or using animatronic puppets. Those, blended with the real animals, were just surreal enough that you could believe real animals were talking. When the entire animal is CGI, and they’re doing elaborately animated pratfalls that no animals could ever do, there’s no point where you feel like you’re watching Dr. Dolittle work his magic. It’s a special effects film as elaborate as the Marvel movies. 

The fully animated animals works for movies like The Jungle Book, because that is about anthropomorphized animals. The human is supposed to be out of place in their world. Making the Dolittle animals that animated takes them out of the real world, and they’re way more overdone than the Jungle Book creatures anyway.

Robert Downey, Jr. really wants to be Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp launched his own blockbuster movie career with Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio famously fought his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, but he proved them right and then overdid it in every role since. Downey seems to want his Dr. Dolittle to be a veterinary Jack Sparrow. 

Dolittle: Robert Downey Jr. and Harry Collett
L-R: Harry Collett and Robert Downey, Jr. | Universal Pictures

He begins the movie in an absurd state of dishevelment and babbles incoherently in a Welsh accent. Dr Dolittle doesn’t innately call for quirky flamboyance though. Downey certainly doesn’t need to show off. He’s already had two franchises and could launch another if he just did a respectful take on Dr. Dolittle for the kids of 2020. 

Dolittle unfortunately favors big CGI spectacle instead of honing in on the power that makes Dr. Dolittle special. Sure, there are worse talking animal films and worse CGI set piece films. There are even worse Dr. Dolittle films but Dr. Dolittle still gets lost in his own movie.