The Trouble With Doctor Dolittle

DoLittle

Dolittle is Robert Downey Jr.’s first movie to be released after his triumphant turn as Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame.  (C’mon, Academy.  Don’t let me down.  Nominate him!)  Unfortunately, the trailer looks less than stellar.  In fact, Hollywood doesn’t have the best record when it comes to adaptations of Hugh Lofting’s children’s book character who talks to animals.  So let’s take a deeper look at the trouble with Doctor Dolittle.

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

Rex Harrison starred in this musical movie adaptation.  The production suffered numerous setbacks and difficulties especially because of the large numbers of animals required for the film.  The movie went over budget.  It received mixed to negative reviews.  It bombed at the box office.  Yet due to intense lobbying by the studio, the movie received a Best Picture nomination.  One it does not deserve.  While I’ve never seen the movie, the general consensus from those who have is that it’s a long slog at two and a half hours.  It certainly doesn’t belong in a class with Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night and fellow nominees Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Dr. Dolittle (1998)

Eddie Murphy starred as Dolittle in this genuinely funny adaptation.  Along with The Nutty Professor and Mulan, this movie is part of his amazing ’90s comeback.  Critics gave the movie mixed reviews but it was a box office success.  Featuring celebrity voices such as Norm McDonald, Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Jenna Elfman, and Gilbert Gottfried as the animals, the movie was a fun summer romp.

Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001)

This one’s un-bear-able.

Eddie Murphy returned for this less funny, less entertaining sequel.  Dolittle tries to help a bear (voiced by Steve Zahn) mate.  Again, the movie received mixed reviews but was a box office hit.

Dolittle Sequels

Kyla Pratt, who plays Murphy’s daughter in the first two films, took over the lead role in three direct-to-video sequels.  I honestly didn’t know they made any more after Dr. Dolittle 3.  With titles like Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief and Million Dollar Mutts, you can probably guess at the quality and target audience of these movies.

Dolittle (2020)

There have been many rumors of a troubled production with the latest adaptation.  Reportedly, tensions became strained between director Stephen Gaghan and Robert Downey Jr. to the point that Downey would only respond to him with monkey noises.  According to a now deleted Reddit post by someone claiming to have worked on the set, the filmmakers began filming scenes before they had planned where the animals would be standing.  According to this same source, Gaghan also wanted to fire the pre-visual animation department and just sort of wing it on the day of shooting.   None of this bodes well for the new film.  Hollywood loves breathing new life into old properties but maybe it’s time to finally close the book on Doctor Dolittle.

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Virgin Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane
He sees you when you’re sleeping.

I hadn’t seen any of the films with Cloverfield in the title, not Cloverfield itself,  or 10 Cloverfield Lane, nor the Cloverfield Paradox. I’m not clear if they’re even related to each other. Some sources say yes, but think it might indicate a anthology of unrelated trippy stories, like a  movie analog to TV’s Twilight Zone.

So while I cannot confirm or deny if these movies are even in the same universe, I will go on record to say 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very enjoyable film. It’s kind of like one of those “experience” movies, where a first time viewing is the best, because you don’t know what’s going on, or how things will end up.

[pullquote]It’s also one of those films you can’t describe without spoiling it, like Cabin in the Woods and Gone Girl and — you know what? Even just saying there’s stuff I can’t say is a spoiler. [/pullquote]

If you’re spoiler averse, you might want to stop reading now and come back after you see this flick.

Okay, here we go. This psychological suspense thriller could have been penned from Hitchcock himself. It’s a perfect example of a bottle show, taking place almost entirely in a confined room. The claustrophobic tone is enhanced by the camera  staying very close to the characters’ faces. There are a few takes where this is very noticeable, like when Michelle and Emmett are sharing their life stories.  The camera swaps tight images of their faces without pulling back to show them in  the same frame, to enhance the feelings of separation and loneliness.

There’s a lot of close-in, canted angles, interesting framing devices, and many symbolic shots cleverly taking the place of verbal exposition — like Michelle’s nail polish slowly chipping off to show the passage of time, and the recurring image of the Eiffel Tower reminding us of possible dark deeds around the fate of Howard’s daughter. An agitated Michelle in the teaser tells us all the backstory we need about this character, without a word.

There are very few wide shots, and the few we do see just reinforce that the entire movie is filmed in a small bunker. We don’t see any landscape shots until the last act, with a surprise tonal change that manages to genre-shift the entire movie. What began as a tautly compelling suspense mystery suddenly turns into a science-fiction feature. I enjoyed both storylines, but it really was an abrupt mood swing.

One cool bit of attention to detail: Howard was watching Pretty in Pink, and they manage to name drop the movie out loud for our benefit. If you recall, that’s the one were Molly Ringwald wanted to be a clothes designer. Which is what we know Michelle wanted. (Ya think that will become important?)

So, is Howard right, or is he looneytunes? (Answer: both.) What’s with the girl who may be Megan, but is more likely Tiffany? Who wrote HELP on the window and what happened to her? Why does Howard have a barrel full of hydrochloric acid? What were those things doing to the world?

I kind of like that so few elements were resolved: I can use my imagination to fill in the rest of the blanks. I also have to wonder…what would I have done in her situation?

Movie Grade: B+

One cool thing I wanted to add: there’s a scene were Howard tells Michelle “Let’s go — bathroom time!” Wouldn’t that be the best meta cue for a Peetime?

RunPee’s original Movie Review of 10 Cloverfield Lane

Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane