Doctor Dolittle (1998)

Doctor Dolittle (1998)
 
 
 

What Animals Want

Somebody get the license plate number. I have just been violated - Rodney

Eddie Murphy as Dr. John Dolittle in Doctor Dolittle

For those who have never seen the 1967 movie called "Doctor Dolittle" let me tell you now Eddie Murphy's 1998 movie of the same name is not a remake. Whilst a couple of ideas from that 1967 version have sneaked themselves into this new version, such as using magnifying glasses to help a horse with dodgy eye sight, this is in reality a very different movie. And to be honest it's an enjoyable story, an enjoyable movie and for me one of Eddie Murphy's better family orientated movies. It's by no means perfect and the way we watch animals talk often ends up rather tacky but the humour and some of the animal characters are surprisingly good.

As a child John Dolittle (Eddie Murphy - The Nutty Professor) was able to talk and understand his dog, but after an unfortunate butt sniffing incident his dad had enough and got rid of his dog and in doing so John's amazing ability. Now a respectable father with a growing medical business John has forgotten all about this gift, that is until he nearly runs over a dog only for it to turn around and call him a "bonehead". And it's not just dogs that John can hear, but it is all animals and they can understand him making life very confusing as his friends and family think he may have flipped especially when he finds himself trying to help a suicidal tiger who's not been feeling well.

Eddie Murphy as Dr. John Dolittle and Lucky in Doctor Dolittle

"Doctor Dolittle" is most definitely a movie aimed at younger audiences, it has a steady flow of body noise gags and scenes which will get younger audiences going "eeugh", but this isn't offensive stuff, in fact whilst much of it feels like a series of set pieces it is enjoyable. And so to be honest is the storyline as we watch Dr. John Dolittle suddenly finding himself not only understanding what animals say but also the ability to communicate with them. Of course what this means is that first we have John feeling like he's going a little mad then when he accepts it everyone else thinks he's going mad, which when you give the breath of life to a flatulent rat they may be right to think so. It's all very simple stuff and as already mentioned it does at times feel like a series of set pieces, ideas thought of at the writers table which are then sown together by a slim storyline, but it works.

What doesn't so much is its absolute lack of subtlety because "Doctor Dolittle" is a movie with a message, yes a children's movie with a very obvious message. That message is basically about being true to yourself, a noble concept but one which is delivered in such a forced manner that the forced smile which Eddie Murphy gives at the end says it all about how unsubtle it is. Maybe younger audiences won't pick up on it, but it does make it a little cheesy for adults finding themselves sitting in front of all these animal antics with their young ones.

But despite this "Doctor Dolittle" is good fun and the various gags all work quite brilliantly even those at the start which tells us how as a child John could speak to his animal but lost the ability once his father became over concerned by his strange behaviour, such as sniffing people's butts because that's what dogs do to say hello. It has to be said that this is not intelligent humour and much of it is what you could call child gross out with scenes which will make young audiences cringe whilst they also laugh. But it does work in some subtle adult humour, jokes which will fly over young audiences heads to give adults something to laugh at.

As for Eddie Murphy, well as Dr. John Dolittle this is one of his most restrained performances, playing almost a straight man to all the mayhem going on around him. And it kind of works as toned down Eddie Murphy is quite funny especially with so many of the animal characters being so funny. From Chris Rocky voicing Rodney the rodent through to Albert Brooks voicing Jacob the Tiger the witty dialogue is just marvellous. And the best of these comes from Norm MacDonald who voices Lucky the dog with such great comic timing that to be honest Murphy is outshone by this dog and its dialogue.

Now for some the array of visual effects used to get animals to talk will be brilliant as there is a mixture of animatronics and CGI. But sadly for me this is one of the movies few weaknesses as some of the effects are better than others, some looking extremely fake and a little scary.

What this all boils down to is that "Doctor Dolittle" is a very entertaining movie and when it comes to Eddie Murphy's attempts to make a family friendly movie it is probably his best. It maybe simple and most definitely not a remake but the stream of humour and great dialogue runs thick and fast accompanied by plenty of visual gags which will have younger audiences laughing as they go "eeugh" at something akin to junior gross out. And at the same time whilst it works for younger audiences it also works for adults as well with some wonderful gags which will fly over younger audience's heads.

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