Film review: Doctor Dolittle (1998), directed by Betty Thomas
A film about a guy who can talk with animals – how can I refuse? Dr John Doolittle (Eddie Murphy) is a high-flying doctor trying to secure a deal for his hospital (Peter Boyle is involved here), with career-minded colleagues breathing (e.g. Oliver Platt) down his neck. At home, he’s too busy to pay proper attention to his daughter Maya (Kyla Pratt), or his wife Lisa (Kristen Wilson) for that matter.
Then one day he meets a dog, Rodney (voiced by Chris Rock), and everything John tried to repress when he was a child comes back. He’s hated animals since he was a child, ever since his father (Ossie Davis) said there was no such thing as talking to animals. Then here he is, talking to animals, and they just won’t shut up. In fact, rumour starts to spread in the animal community, and suddenly Dr Dolittle finds himself both doctor and psychologist to everything furry, feathery and scaly in the city – while everyone around him believes he’s going crazy.
Eddie Murphy has become known for not terribly good comedies since the glory days of (good, or so I’ve heard) films like Beverly Hills Cop in the 1980s. This isn’t a terribly great film either, but perhaps slightly more high-brow than The Nutty Professor.
The reason I watched this film at all was because it’s about a guy who talks to animals. Technically, anyone can talk to animals – it’s hearing their reply that’s the tricky part. This was done better than I expected. Sure, you wouldn’t see e.g. a dog using its mouth to talk back, but what they’re actually saying isn’t too far from the truth.
I could say that films like this trivialises interspecies communications, but I think instead, it shows us the very real alternative to popular belief that the human animal and the other animals can’t communicate with one another. Of course we can. The way I see it, we’re all parts of the whole – why shouldn’t we be able to understand each other? The trick is to listen, which is both fantastically simple and incredibly difficult to do – but is the most rewarding thing in the world when you succeed. Our animal friends have so much to tell us, more than silly things like their butts hurting.
Film-wise, it was cute to see the little girl trying and her dad who finally reunited, and Dolittle Sr who started believing in his son again – not to mention Dolittle Jr, who stuck it to the man and finally stood up for what he believed in. It’s heartwarming. Not spectacular, but a nice way to spend an afternoon. Just remember to give your pet a cuddle afterwards. They deserve it.
3 out of 5 suicidal circus animals.