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Friday, 28 April 2017

Retro Review: Dr Dolittle (1998)

Dr Dolittle
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Kyla Pratt, Raven-Symone, Ellen Degeneres, Julie Kavner, Chris Rock
Genre: Fantasy Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $294 million 

Plot: A successful physician and devoted family man, Dr John Dolittle has the world by the tail until a long-suppressed tale he possessed as a child - the ability to communicate with animals - is suddenly reawakened with a vengeance. Now every creature within howling distance wants the good doctor's advice, unleashing an outrageous chain of events that turn his world upside down 

'Comedy That Offers Little With This Animal Doctor In The House'

After the success of Babe, films centered on talking animals are a hit and miss affair. And Dr Dolittle is more of the latter; after a near-fatal collision, Dolittle survives - only to gain the ability to hear animals talk, and this leads to all manner of situations. 

Despite Eddie Murphy's valiant efforts, the truth is this film is neither funny or hysterical enough for a comedy. The talking animals thing provided by an all-star line-up featuring Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Norm MacDonald and Julie Kavner (Marge of The Simpsons) which is the central theme of this film, would have worked - had the dialogue they'd been uttering made me laugh and smile, yet it wasn't amusing and I didn't laugh. The effects, however, are good and Eddie is restrained with a performance that is of the consummate professional that he is. Whereas some may argue Dr Dolittle fails to take advantage of his comedic talents and showcase more of a wacky nature of his style of comedy, it is nice to see less of the fast-talking and edgy antics he has been long known for. 

Unfortunately, as restrained and infectious as Eddie is, as the straight man, the actual film itself is a bore to watch with a lacklustre screenplay and is completely devoid of genuine laughs, wit, intrigue and charm and is replaced with a stale narrative, flat and tepid banter and direction by director Betty Thomas. I realise that the talking animals are the comic relief in this film, but we also have Eddie Murphy who is a funny guy and great comedian; so why not have him showcase more of that also? Yet, there just wasn't more of his boisterous and energetic personality that this film would have done more with and have easily benefited from. Instead, what we have is a film where the production focuses all of its attentions on seeing animals speak with human voices. Dr Dolittle is more about the animals being funny, moreso than Eddie being funny - and when that happens in a film such as this, one is looking at a misfire, which this film is. The conception of it is a misfire and doesn't do a lot to entertain.  

Another problem I found with this version of Dr Dolittle is that the director made the mistake of turning what was originally a family/kids film into a more adult affair, and I don't mean loading it with profanity, sexual references, rather the initial premise of Dr Dolittle was appealing enough for kids, but in modernising it, it did take away from some of the core essences of the original. 

Eddie Murphy's movies during the 1990s have been a mixed bag, although honestly, there were more bombs than there were good to great films of his. Dr Dolittle is in many ways, a disappointment as a comedy. Oh, and whilst I liked his hair in Metro, here, Eddie's hair as Dolittle I didn't like so much. 

Final Verdict:

Gimmicky or not, Dr Dolittle is in truth a bland, dull and consistently unfunny film that underutilises Eddie Murphy's talents. Despite how restrained he is here, as a film, Dr Dolittle just doesn't deliver what it should promise. I was actually hoping this will do similar things for Murphy like with Flubber and Robin Williams, in the family fantasy comedy context: the difference here is that movie had mildly amusing moments, as silly as some of it looked, that was also genuine and which also worked, whereas that is not the case with this comedy. 

Despite Eddie's amicable showing as John Dolittle, 1998's version of Dr Dolittle lacks heart, the wow factor where the film demands it and that come past the one hour mark, I just didn't care for it.

This should have been a decent comedy and as an update, it should have had more to offer, especially more of the wackiness that doesn't just stem from the talking animals but from Eddie himself and his character undergoing pratfalls, visual and slapstick gags; ultimately and lamentably, however, there is just so little for me to take and enjoy from Dr Dolittle

*score last updated: 29 April, 2017*


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