A physician discovers that he can talk to animals.
As a windbreaker ’90s kid, I’m accustomed to an Eddie Murphy Dolittle. The 1998 Dr. Dolittle film focuses more on Dolittle rediscovering his childhood gift of talking with animals. Though Dr. Dolittle was a top-notch veterinarian, he now had to learn to become an animal’s therapist and friend. Naturally, this sort of communication wasn’t understood by society and created some wacky adventures for Dolittle and his patients.
However, the 2020 Dolittle features a washed-up English veterinarian who no longer provides his unique animal services to anyone. Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) was gifted a splendid palace with acres of land by the Queen of England after he had saved one of her beloved pets. There, he and his wife provided a safe haven for all sorts of animals. After a tragic shipwreck, Dolittle lost his wife and all sense of purpose. For years, the animals took care of him, until a little boy and girl crept into his palace and demanded his help.
The Queen of England’s health is failing, and if she dies, Dr. Dolittle loses his animal palace. Dr. Dolittle and Stubbins (Harry Collett), his voluntary apprentice, take a grand adventure full of animals, pirate-like fights, and treasures to find the Tree of Eden that will save the Queen and restore Dolittle’s palace.
Dolittle’s character changes for the better throughout the film. His heart softens, he learns to forgive himself, and he remembers that he is supposed to pour truth and encouragement into his animal friends. His scaredy-cat gorilla is always fearful of messing something up, but Dolittle says that “Courage is not the absence of fear.” One of the closing lines of the film reminds us that, “Only by helping others … we can help ourselves.”
The Tree of Eden that holds the magic drops that can cure the Queen seems to offer a biblical parallel to the Garden of Eden, where everything was perfect and whole, though no record of Genesis is mentioned. On the other hand, Dolittle prays to his wife in an odd shrine featuring their wedding rings and Buddha-like figurines. These contradictory spiritual elements are cross-layered throughout the film, ending with a Catholic priest praying to Jesus to save the Queen.
Another precautionary element for parents includes some vague, but crude humor. A whale throws his fin in the air to “flip off” the bad guys who had poisoned the Queen, several animals talk about “butts” and other potty references, and the gorilla moons Dolittle when he doesn’t get his way. In addition, “damn” is thrown into the film one time in the middle of a climactic scene, so though it’s somewhat lost in the action, parents are sure to catch it.
Though the crude humor and mild language weren’t necessary script-fillers, the messages of forgiveness and friendship earn the 2020 Dolittle film Dove-approval for All Ages.