There’s a scene early on in 2019’s Dolittle where a gorilla sits down to play chess with the good doctor himself. Dolittle, played with a kind of impossibly manic energy by Robert Downey Jr, looks like a Castaway knock-off with a penchant for young adult fashion. Their chess pieces aren’t made of stone or wood, of course, they are played by white and black mice who wear tiny approximations of courtly attire. When a mouse is driven to checkmate by the gorilla, it continually whacks its opponent mouse over the head with a tiny scepter. Through this scene Dolittle speaks to the gorilla in a series of grunts and groans and chest thumps. This continues for far, far longer than you would’ve thought any sane director would allow it to.
Imagine that deeply uncomfortable scene in Wolf of Wall Street where Matthew McConnaghey chest bumps and chants his way into the opening of a lunch with a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Now imagine it for three times the length and without any intention of it being uncomfortable: this sequence is just how Doolittle speaks to animals, and you had best prepare yourself because he will be spending a great deal of the runtime of this movie speaking in some form of animal language.
What is the premise you may ask yourself? Doctor Dolittle is a doctor who can speak to animals, though this is apparently just due to study rather than through any extraordinary power. His wife went on a journey to a mysterious island populated by an incredibly rare fruit, whereupon she died. Dolittle decides that people are no longer worth the trouble and shuts down his clinic and grows an intense beard. Seven years later, the Queen is in trouble, he takes on an apprentice and decides to go to the self-same island that his wife died questing towards. It seems like a simple enough plot, but every second of the movie is working towards complicating that plot. The movie is less of a plotted adventure and more a series of one-liners delivered by a CG duck, an abortion joke told by manic ostrich who almost drowned to death and was saved by a John Cena voiced polar bear or a fart joke in the middle of an extended transanal extraction with a leek.
The least understandable character in Dolittle is probably a Jason Mantzoukas voiced dragonfly who is completely suicidal because he was in love with a lockpicking ant named Sheila, but she left him for a bad-boy scorpion. This is where they cue a dick joke. Most of the animation in Doolittle is questionable — probably just because of the sheer quantity of it, but Mantzoukas’s cartoonish pest is perhaps the least comprehensible and felt like it was somehow being racist to a demographic that didn’t exist.
It’s hard not to repeat the phrase “manic” when discussing Dolittle. The movie is constantly moving – here’s a character introduction, now we’re speaking to the Queen, oh the good doctors wife is dead let him rub an actual lily on the portrait of his wife Lily, a squid says “stitches get snitches,” there’s a French Revolutionary fox, and oh I guess we’re pirates now. It’s frenetic. Every moment of emotionality is immediately disrupted by say, two lemurs slurping down coconut drinks. The emotional axis of the movie, the death of Doolittle’s wife, is so often undercut that in the emotional climax of the movie — where Doolittle empathizes with a dragon who also lost her partner — the emotional constipation is also treated as actual constipation.
Ok, so about that constipation. I’m spoiling this moment for you, because it’s impossible to talk about this movie without discussing the inclusion of this scene. After having a heart to heart with a dragon, Dolittle explains that she has some blockage, and that if he treats it she’ll feel a lot better. She consents to emergency surgery. All of the animals hold her limbs down and Dolittle takes a leek and shoves it inside of her rectum.
This movie, which is intended for kids, has a 3 minute long procedure where Dolittle fishes around inside of a dragon’s ass looking for the cause of her constipation. He finds armor, she farts all over his face, and in conclusion she expels a complete, functioning set of bagpipes. This is the emotional and actual climax of the movie.
It’s not bad, per se, but it’s definitely not good. It is a movie likely to find its way to syndication on television. The most interesting thing about Dolittle is probably that I spent a half hour trying to find the right words to describe emptying a dragons colon of armor before settling on “transanal extraction.”