DR. DOLITTLE is a fine vehicle for Murphy's talents, but the comedy is uneven and fails to build to a cohesive, hilarious climax. The movie also includes an abundance of crude scatological references and mild scatological obscenities, especially during the movie's first half. For an Eddie Murphy film, DR. DOLITTLE is mild; for a children's movie, it is still too much.
Comedian Eddie Murphy applies his brand of comic attitude to a beloved character in children’s literature in DR. DOLITTLE. Some of that comedy has been toned down for this movie, which has an instant appeal for younger children because of the animals.
Murphy plays John Dolittle, a doctor who’s about to accept a lucrative deal with a major HMO. The movie opens with an incident from John’s childhood, where we learn that John has a special gift: he can actually talk with animals. However, when the family dog teaches him a crude form of doggy behavior, John’s father, played by veteran actor Ossie Davis, sends the pet away, and John stops using his gift.
John’s early childhood experience has left him fearful of his daughter’s pet hamster. One evening, he swerves to avoid hitting a dog, and the dog tells him, “Watch where you’re going next time, you bonehead!” The next day, John starts to hear other animals talk during a meeting with the HMO people. Later that day, his daughter’s hamster starts talking with him while he drives to the country to meet his family on an outing.
That night outside the family’s cabin, an owl approaches John. “The whole woods are talking about you,” says the owl, who asks John to remove a stick caught in its wing. John removes the stick, but immediately goes back to the city to ask his own doctor to check him out. They decide John is under too much stress, but John keeps hearing other animals talk. He runs into the dog he almost ran over, befriends the dog and gives it to his daughter as a pet. While she is away at camp, John’s house is overrun by a bunch of ducks, sheep, birds, and other animals seeking his help just before bedtime. John begins to like treating the animals, but, when his wife and colleagues find John treating a street rat in his office, they commit him to psychiatric observation. John represses his ability once again to keep his family together and save his medical practice, but a sick tiger in need of urgent brain surgery spoils those plans, to great comic effect.
DR. DOLITTLE is a fine vehicle for Murphy’s talents, but its comedy relies too heavily on the dialogue between Murphy and the animals. Murphy has an expressive face that can be very funny, and he uses it in this movie. Animals can’t match such complex human facial expressions, however, so the relationship between them and Murphy remains at a superficial level.
The filmmakers also decide to turn the animals into talking “comedian” animals, using the voices of real comedians such as Norm Macdonald, Chris Rock, Albert Brooks, and Garry Shandling. Instead of fully integrating the dialogue of these animals into John Dolittle’s story, they mostly use it to come up with little bits revolving around Murphy’s interaction with the crazy personalities of the individual animals. These bits don’t build to any cohesive comical climaxes in the movie, even at the end.
Finally, although children will love to watch the animals in this movie and enjoy some of their antics, there are lots of crude scatological references and mild scatological obscenities in DR. DOLITTLE. In one scene, for instance, a veterinarian “loses” a rectal thermometer inside the dog that Murphy befriends.
For an Eddie Murphy film, DR. DOLITTLE is mild; for a children’s movie, it is still too much. Thus, while the movie contains a mildly moral worldview that rebukes greed and extols family togetherness, DR. DOLITTLE deserves a caution for concerned parents and their children.
(B, Ro, E, LL, V, S, N, AA) Mildly moral worldview where greed is rebuked & a man's family learns to accept his unique gift with mild romanticist & environmental elements; one strong obscenity, 13 mild obscenities, one strong profanity, one mild profanity, several vulgarities, & one blasphemy where a reverend & his belief in exorcism are mocked; man hits man with door & man punches man in nose; one scene where a husband & wife plan sex & several sexual innuendoes; one scene of partial rear female nudity; and, alcohol use & drunkenness.