I don’t envy Robert Downey Jr. Wrapping up a role in one of the greatest cinematic franchises of all time with Marvel (he was Iron Man, in case you missed that), and having to decide what projects to do next, can’t be easy.
But alas, you’ve got to ‘suck it up, sunshine’ and pick something.
Introducing, Dolittle: a modern take on the story of the famed 1920’s character, who has ditched human interaction for talking to animals instead, and carries all the quirks a housebound naturalist might. Not only does RDJ star as the iconic doctor, but he’s also the executive producer along with his wife Susan, so he clearly believes in the story.
Dolittle is a man broken by the world. An adventurer and explorer, his travels have seen him lose loved ones and be misunderstood by ‘refined society’. As a result, he has withdrawn from everyday life and chosen to be surrounded by animals only—until he meets Tommy and Lady Rose.
Tommy (Harry Collett) is an “odd boy” who hasn’t inherited the hunting instincts of his father, preferring not to kill animals. When he accidentally injures one, he seeks out Dolittle, who begrudgingly accepts the boys plea for help and begins to feel hope in finding a kindred spirit. Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) has also come to find Dolittle, with a message from the Queen who has fallen ill and needs his expertise.
It’d be easy to write off the movie as “another regurgitation of an old story, bah humbug,” and early reviews haven’t been favourable – but there’s a subtle depth to Dolittle that can’t be overlooked.
At the heart of the story (that may be messy at times) is a man learning to deal with grief in isolation. His curiosity and joyful abandonment has been dimmed by pain, and he’s hesitant to reconnect with people who don’t seem to speak his language. What Dolittle learns, though, is that you can’t heal alone, and at some point he has to open up and let people love him.
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What adults may roll their eyes at or see the flaws in, Dolittle’s younger target audience will miss, as they lap up the thrills of an animal-loving escapade. The cast is filled with familiar names like Emma Thompson voicing Poly, Tom Holland as Pip and Selena Gomez as Betsy the giraffe, offering a point of connection for all ages.
RDJ deserves props for easily letting you forget Tony Stark, and not leaning on the eccentricities of his 2009 Sherlock Holmes, who could’ve easily been superimposed onto the doctor. His ability to act on-set largely without other humans is also impressive, so look out for the behind-the-scenes reel that’s no doubt rolling around the internet somewhere.
Dolittle may not be a new story, but is a rare find for families who want an entertaining weekend watch that delivers a valuable take-home message too.
Dolittle is in cinemas January 16.