Given the success of Babe, it’s easy to see why Hollywood would be eager to remake Dr. Dolittle. But, though they remembered the talking animals, someone forgot to give this movie a sense of humor.
Even as a young boy, John Dolittle had a gift…he could talk to the animals. But after learning some inappropriate social customs from the family dog (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), he is forced to repress his ability. In fact he goes so far that he forgets his gift completely. All is well until, twenty five years or so later, he receives a convenient conk on the head.
As a grownup, John (Eddie Murphy) has become a successful doctor, and has a wife (Kristen Wilson), and two daughters. His partners (Oliver Platt and Richard Schiff) and on the verge of selling their practice to an HMO. Just when Dr. Dolittle needs a level head, all the animals around begin speaking to him.
The animal voices are mostly familiar, and it’s actually more entertaining trying to spot all the celebrity voices than it is listening to what they have to say. The most vociferous duo are Chris Rock as the family pet guinea pig, and Norm MacDonald as a stray dog. But John Leguizamo, Albert Brooks, Gary Shandling, Julie Kavner, Gilbert Gottfried and others lend their pipes as well.
There are a few, a very few, funny moments with the speaking animals. If you’ve seen the commercials for this one, you’ve seen them all. A neurosis here, a raunchy reference there…after a while the repetitive humor gets as stale as a box of three month old animal crackers.
When you’re left with the human story in this film, you know you’re in trouble. Your average TV sitcom has more depth than the characters here (and at least twice the humor). As an audience, you couldn’t care less about the whole HMO plot, which is the strongest element the human story has in it.
As Dr. Dolittle, Eddie Murphy is stuck playing the straight man, sidekick to the animals strutting their stuff. However, in his previous straight man role (that of Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor), at least he was a likable and interesting character in his own right. Here, he’s merely bland.
For a movie about animals, you’d expect a few animal tricks here and there. That’s not the case in Dr. Dolittle. They simply wander about, with animated lips thrown in later. The special effects are never groundbreaking, but aren’t too bad (except when they resort to that guinea pig hand puppet).
If this is all animals have to say, we’re not missing anything. And by skipping Dr. Dolittle, neither will you.