Movies

The Entire Plot Of ‘Doolittle’ Recreated With Baffled Reviews

January and February have long been acknowledged as the dumping ground of the movie release calendar, a time when the awards nominees have all been announced and the studios dispose of their least prestigious titles. That’s generally bad news for movie lovers, but it can be great news for disaster gawkers.

Just weeks after the spectacle of Cats, the same studio, Universal, has brought us Dolittle, a reported $175 million budgeted CGI extravaganza whose release date was pushed nine months while it underwent 21 days of reshoots. This despite Dolittle having been directed by the Oscar-winning writer of Traffic and director of Syriana, Stephen Gaghan (!!!), who either lost a bet or just really wanted to trade drug cartels and mideast politics for farting dragons and Antonio Banderas in extravagant eyeliner.

Whatever the case, the financiers’ loss is our gain, as we once again get to play one of our favorite games — Plot Recreated With Reviews — in which we attempt to recreate the entire plot of a movie using nothing but expository quotes from real reviews. Because sometimes it’s more fun to hear a movie described than to actually see it.

ACT ONE

The story finds Dolittle a hermit, shut up in his estate, grieving the loss of his wife, who disappeared on one of her adventures. (LA Times)

He’s getting over the loss the only way he knows how: hiding, crying and growing out a beard. (ThePlaylist)

Downey’s Dr. Dolittle, a gruff man with a faltering Welsh accent (one of several baffling performance choices by Downey Jr.), is playing chess where mice are the pieces and communicating with his opponent, a gorilla, through a series of grunts. (Observer/The Atlantic)

When he wants to take off his coat, birds do it for him. When he wants his morning coffee, an ape brings it to him. (ThePlaylist)

One day, an intrepid young man, Stubbins (Harry Collett), and an annoying young girl, Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) (LA Times)

— the very Victorian combination of a child aristocrat and a plucky boy in a newsie cap — (AV Club)

stumble through a wall of overgrown vines and enter the Eden-like preserve. The birds chirp their morning song. Animals frolic in the fields. A polar bear is devouring blueberries in a bush. (ThePlaylist)

They arrive at his doorstep, drawing Dolittle out of zoological retirement by invoking the also very Victorian value of loyalty to his monarch (Jessie Buckley), who’s been stricken with a mysterious illness and needs Dolittle’s help. (If you’re asking yourself at this point, “Isn’t Dr. Dolittle a veterinarian?” the answer is, sort of. He can treat humans, but he prefers not to.) (AV Club)

His mission, you see, is to save Queen Victoria, who has fallen into a coma, possibly because she’s being poisoned by her aides-de-camp Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen) and Lord Badgley (Jim Broadbent). (The Atlantic)

Dolittle rushes to her bedside only because his land, deeded as a nature preserve, will be signed off to the treasury upon the queen’s death. Nothing like a real estate quibble to get the blood pumping. (LA Times)

“I knew I shouldn’t have had monkeys proofread the contract,” I think Dolittle says. (The Ringer)

THE QUEST

The only way to revive Her Majesty is to retrieve a magical fruit from a hidden kingdom. (The Atlantic)

The crux of the narrative here is simple: Dr. Dolittle has lost his mojo, and sets off on an adventure to get his groove back. What’s unexpected is how grimly riddled with death that narrative is. (Daily Beast)

“I don’t care about anyone or anything anywhere anymore,” I think Dolittle says. (The Ringer)

ROBERT DOWNEY JR.

This particular vision of Dr. Dolittle is wildly disheveled (before various animals groom him back to respectability pre–Buckingham Palace), kids-movie eccentric (with a flamboyant 19th-century-English-or-maybe-Irish accent that sounds vaguely pornographic), and possesses a bizarre tendency to mumble, to whisper, to wheeze, to flirt shamelessly with total incoherence. (The Ringer)

He has settled on a performance that can only be described as anti-charming; he’s more of a collection of tics and grunts than a human being. His Welsh accent is absurd—when it’s audible. (The Atlantic)

He sounds like Tom Jones visiting a friend’s tiny apartment while an infant sleeps in the next room. (Observer)

His accent is sort of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins meets Captain Jack Sparrow with a leprechaunic lilt (Daily Beast)

(with a soupçon of Gandalf) (Vanity Fair)

…which occasionally (and I’m assuming inadvertently) slips into Irish, Indian, and Jamaican intonations. (Vulture)

Aside from being geographically unplaceable and often unintelligible, it is entirely different every time he speaks. (Daily Beast)

Worse, much of his dialogue seems to have been overdubbed, a likely component of the movie’s extensive reworking in post-production and reshoots. (AP)

More often than not, Downey Jr. looks bored, unamused by the CGI antics swirling around him, and even less interested in whatever flimsy action he’s supposed to be driving forward. (The Atlantic)

GENERAL INCONSISTENCY

The perilous journey requires the involvement of almost all of Dolittle’s furry friends, including an ornery polar bear who’s always cold, (John Cena), a wisecracking ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), and a cowardly gorilla (Rami Malek). (The Atlantic/Chicago Sun-Times)

Transitions have been lost along the way, so we’re thrown from location to location with no context. (LA Times)

Sometimes Dolittle is in the whimsically ramshackle mansion where he lives with his various bestial patients and nurses a broken heart over a long-lost love; sometimes he’s on a boat sailing the high seas, or in an oceanic pirate nation, or in a mysterious dragon-guarded cave (The Atlantic)

How he gets to these places is mostly unclear, though some very eager narration by a parrot called Polynesia (played by Emma Thompson) tries to explain away every storytelling inconsistency. (The Atlantic)

During one scene, a character pulls a knife and I’m pretty sure it was presented in three different cuts — and in no shot did we actually get a clear look at the knife. It was almost as if we were watching stolen documentary footage of the real-life actor pulling a knife on set, demanding to be freed from this unholy production. (Vulture)

This is a problem for the animals as well, whose dialogue doesn’t quite match their CGI lips, and whose voices don’t sound like they’re coming from any part of the film’s physical space. (Vulture)

“We have far less important places to be!” crows John Dolittle as he waltzes out of Buckingham Palace. (The Ringer)

THE ZINGERS

The film’s humor reeks of after-the-fact punch-up prompted by negative test-audience feedback. That is to say, Dolittle is full of anachronistic pop culture references and poop and fart humor, jokes delivered in suspiciously low-impact style by the film’s animated animals. (A/V Club)

90 percent of the dialogue consists of bargain-basement sitcom zingers delivered by ducks and squirrels. (The Atlantic)

The voice cast has been reduced to lowest-common-denominator jokes and modern colloquialisms that make them sound like Millennials at 4:20.

“I got your back, Doc!”

“It’s showtime!”

“Don’t worry guys, I got this!” (San Francisco Chronicle)

Michael Sheen’s villain at one point yells, “Read the room!” at an underling. (The Wrap)

Dolittle is the sort of movie in which a skittish gorilla overcomes his various fears and saves the day by kicking a vicious tiger (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) in the nuts. (The Ringer)

…In which a gorilla named Chee-Chee covers his face with his hands and yells, “I am not a prisoner to fear!” (The Atlantic)

…a blustery squirrel (voiced by Craig Robinson) cries “I’m too beautiful to die!” shortly before Dolittle begins treating the squirrel’s gunshot wound by giving the animal mouth-to-mouth (The Ringer)

At one point, Dolittle and company are welcomed aboard a new boat by a bearded man who announces “I’m Jeff!” and is never seen or mentioned again. (The Atlantic)

The parents in my theater laughed loudest when a squid, asked by Dolittle in squid language to explain why the queen has fallen ill, responded with, “Snitches get stitches.” (The Ringer)

A duck voiced by Octavia Spencer clears a room by announcing, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my bill!” (Observer)

…a tiger gets kicked in the crotch, a dog wipes its arse on the floor (The Playlist)

…a polar bear voiced by John Cena says, “My dad said he was going out for a pack of seals and never came back.” (The Ringer)

[Editor’s Note: To be fair, that is a really good joke]

At one point in the film, an orangutan with a British accent who can’t stop dancing shows up and I chuckled at him, but then he disappears from the movie as quickly as he arrived. I’m thinking of you, dancing orangutan, wherever you are. (Vanity Fair)

None of them have any character to speak of; they’re there for increasingly weak jokes, which culminate in a scene revolving around a dragon’s flatulence. (AP)

Did we really need to see Dolittle pull a bagpipe out of a dragon’s butt? (ThePlaylist)

EDITORIALIZING

This is a movie in which most lines are delivered from offscreen, goofy animal jokes are used to paper over an incoherent structure (The Atlantic)

…a series of malfunctioning screen savers in which Downey Jr. twitches his head left and right while animals gallivant around him, complaining of various ailments while tossing off hacky one-liners. (The Atlantic)

The movie is essentially one and a half hours of celebrity voice-overs finding different ways to say, “That’s gotta hurt!” (The Atlantic)

The C.G. animals are watchable if transparently artificial, a plus. No real giraffe (polar bear, etc.) needs to be abused to create another fantasy in which nonhuman creatures behave like cutesy, cartoonish versions of people. The charm of this fantasy has always been dubious and will presumably fade as the natural world continues to disappear and more and more species become extinct. Increased awareness of our contemporary environmental crisis may explain why, unlike the Murphy movies, this “Dolittle” is set in the past. Because if animals really could talk, they wouldn’t be pleasantly cooing and chatting us up as the world burned. They’d be screaming. (New York Times)

Sheesh, that got grim at the end there. Who’d the New York Times get to write that one, Manohla Darkness? Oh well, Robert Downey Jr. pulling a set of bagpipes out of a dragon’s ass is starting to sound like a nice distraction. And as I’ve said, it’s never too early to start teaching your children about impacted colons.

‘Doolittle’ opens in theaters this weekend. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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