Don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Downey Jr. as much as the next person but, let’s be honest, he’s been playing the same character for years now. The actor was getting his career on track during the early 2000s but it wasn’t until Iron Man that he really became a person to watch. Since that point, it’s kind of felt that we’ve been getting the same thing in almost every film. He’s basically just playing a hyped-up version of himself. The major difference between his Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes is a hundred or so years. Now I think RDJ. is a great guy but there’s just no surprise any more. When you see that RDJ is in a cast, you can be pretty sure about the kind of character he’s going to play. Yeah, I understand that Dr Dolittle is a pretty odd guy but he’s inherently British. He’s described in the books as a well-respected and quiet man. Not an absurd comic figure of fun. I just couldn’t see how a big Hollywood adaptation with RDJ in the titular role would work as well as the classic 1967 film did. But I was willing to be proven wrong.
Reading through the cast of names for this film, I can’t help but think that Dolittle is overcompensating for something. It features voice performances from loads of big-name actors and live-action performances from Robert Downey Jr, Michael Sheen, and Antonio Banderas. You get the impression that the CGI adventure is throwing so much into the pot in the hope that it would distract from its shortcomings. How could the story ever live up to the sheer number of acting talent on screen? I mean what kind of film relegates Octavia Spencer, Ralph Fiennes and Marion Cotillard to tiny roles? A film that needed star power to bring people in because it didn’t have the story to do it?
So, what exactly is the story of the latest outing for the good doctor? Before the film begins, we get a short prologue that lets us know that John Dolittle is a widower. After his wife died at sea, the doctor rejected society and locked himself away with his animals. Until Queen Victoria is struck down with a mysterious illness. Dolittle is called to the palace to save her and he decides to take his menagerie with him. When he discovers that the Queen has been poisoned, John must set sail to the same secret island that his wife was searching for when she died. Will he be able to find what he needs before the Queen dies?
The addition of Dolittle’s new backstory doesn’t really add anything to the story and gave the whole film a weird tone. It works at odds with the childish and silly nature of the jokes. For the most part, this is a film aimed at really young children but the opening of the film just sits oddly in that. I know that Up managed to find that balance but Dolittle is far from Up. It just doesn’t work and it really drags the whole narrative down. If the rest of the film had been consistently funny then it might have worked. However, the jokes are mostly stale and unoriginal. This just feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of other films. As though Dolittle has taken parts of well-known films and stuck them together. It’s a weird vibe.
A vibe that isn’t helped by the fact that RDJ seems to be the only actor really trying here. He’s the only one who is really in and the rest just seem to be along for the ride. The problem is, RDJ tries to make up for his co-stars’ apathy by being extra loud and boisterous. It’s massively unfortunate that his version of Dolittle lacks the charm and emotional resonance that he really needed. Instead, he just seems like a one-dimensional cartoon character. Something that really doesn’t work alongside the lifeless and bored voice performances. By this point, I’ve stopped hoping that Michael Sheen will start starring in good movies again but that doesn’t mean his role here isn’t a little depressing. He’s probably the best thing on display here but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to get excited about. It’s frustrating.
There were a lot of things I disliked about this film but one of the most offensive had to be RDJ’s Welsh accent. Not just that but the fact that he was performing using a bad Welsh accent in front of Michael Sheen. As anybody who has ever attempted to do a Welsh accent will know, it’s really difficult. RDJ gives a valiant effort but it’s just a weird choice. As far as I can see, there was really no reason for the character to be Welsh. It didn’t add anything and was only referenced thanks to a terrible recurring joke about vegetables. It kind of feels as though RDJ fancied doing an accent and, because he’s Iron Man, everybody just let him get on with it. Kind of the vibe of the whole film. It’s a film that uses grand visuals, over-the-top shots, and its main actor to draw people in. The end result is clumsy, drawn-out, and dull. Nothing that justifies its existence.