Dolittle (film)

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Dolittle (2020 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStephen Gaghan
Screenplay by
  • Stephen Gaghan
  • Dan Gregor
  • Doug Mand
Story byThomas Shepherd
Based on
Produced by
CinematographyGuillermo Navarro
Edited by
Music byDanny Elfman[1]
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • January 17, 2020 (2020-01-17) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Budget$175 million[2]
Box office$251.4 million[3]

Dolittle (also referred to as The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle) is a 2020 American fantasy adventure film directed by Stephen Gaghan from a screenplay by Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on a story by Thomas Shepherd. Dolittle is based on the title character created by Hugh Lofting and is primarily inspired by the author's second Doctor Dolittle book, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922). Robert Downey Jr. stars as the title character, alongside Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen in live-action roles, with Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, and Marion Cotillard voicing an array of creatures.

It is the third iteration of film adaptions based on the character, after the 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison and the 1998–2009 Dr. Dolittle film series starring Eddie Murphy as the titular character and later Kyla Pratt as his daughter, and the first not to be distributed by 20th Century Fox.

The project was announced in March 2017 with Downey set to star, and the rest of the cast joined over the following year. Filming began in March 2018 and lasted through June, taking place around the United Kingdom. The film underwent three weeks of reshoots in the spring of 2019, under the supervision of Jonathan Liebesman and Chris McKay after initial test screenings yielded poor results.

Universal Pictures theatrically released Dolittle in the United States on January 17, 2020. The film grossed $250 million worldwide and became the seventh highest-grossing film of 2020. Despite this, the film was a commercial failure, losing Universal as much as $50–100 million, and received generally negative reviews from critics, particularly for its humor and story. It was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture, winning for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel.


In Victorian era Britain, Dr. John Dolittle is a Welsh veterinarian with the ability to communicate with animals. After his wife, Lily, dies at sea, Dolittle retreats from human society and only tends to animals. Years later, a boy, Tommy Stubbins, accidentally wounds Kevin the red squirrel and is guided to Dolittle's help by Polynesia, a macaw. Queen Victoria dispatches Lady Rose to summon Dolittle to help cure her of a deadly illness. He refuses until Poly persuades him that he must begin to reconnect with fellow humans.

He finds the Queen has been poisoned by nightshade and the only cure is the magical fruit of Eden. Though they will need to obtain the location from Lily's journal on Monteverde, Poly, Betsy the giraffe, and Tutu the fox help Tommy escape from his home, and he joins Dolittle's crew including Kevin, Capuchin monkeys Elliot and Elsie, Chee-Chee the gorilla, Yoshi the polar bear, Plimpton the ostrich, Dab-Dab the duck, and Mini the sugar glider. They put to sail for the cure while evading Dolittle's lifelong rival Dr. Blair Müdfly. Dolittle leaves his lurcher Jip and a stick insect named Styx behind to guard the Queen while he's traveling. Dolittle's boat is attacked by Müdfly, and they escape by harnessing a humpback whale, who pulls the boat to safety.

They continue to Monteverde where, attempting to steal Lily's directions to the fruit tree, Dolittle is apprehended by Lily's father King Rassouli, and is locked in a cage with Barry, a moody tiger looking for his mother's approval. Just as Dolittle is to be killed, a newly-courageous Chee-Chee incapacitates Barry. Dolittle and Tommy escape, but lose Lily's journal to Müdfly and have their ship destroyed. Rassouli loans Dolittle a boat to honor his daughter. Trailing Müdfly, Dolittle and company meet Ginko-Who-Soars, a dragon who guards the cure tree. Ginko attacks, causing Müdfly to fall down a hole, but soon collapses from internal pain. Dolittle diagnoses and cures the dragon, who gratefully shows Dolittle the tree. Dolittle returns in time to heal the queen. Styx reveals that Lord Thomas Badgley, one of the Queen's chairmen, poisoned her in order to take the crown for himself, and it was he who ordered Müdfly to foil Dolittle's quest. The Queen has him arrested for treason, and thanks Dolittle for saving her. Dolittle takes on Tommy as his apprentice and re-opens his sanctuary.


Voice cast[edit]


On March 20, 2017, it was announced that Robert Downey Jr. would star in The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, a feature adaptation of Hugh Lofting's second published Dolittle book, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.[5] In December 2017, Harry Collett and Jim Broadbent were also cast, in live action roles.[6][7] In February 2018, Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen were added to the live action cast, while Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez were cast to voice animals, including a tiger, bear, and a lioness.[8][9] In March 2018, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour and Carmen Ejogo all signed on for voice roles as well.[10] The character of Regine, a lioness voiced by Ejogo, was cut from the finished film.[citation needed]

Principal production commenced mid-February 2018. Live-action scenes began filming in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria in May 2018, with further location filming at South Forest, Windsor Great Park, at Cothay Manor in Stawley, Somerset and on the Menai Suspension Bridge in North West Wales, in June 2018.[11][12]

In April 2019, it was reported the film had undergone 21 days of re-shoots following poor test screenings. Director Jonathan Liebesman helped to oversee the filming alongside Gaghan, while Chris McKay wrote new material after it became clear from first cuts that the comedy elements of the film were not coming together as well as the producers had hoped.[2] Prior to this, Universal had turned towards Seth Rogen and Neighbors co-writer Brendan O'Brien to help add comedy to the film. However, neither could remain committed to the project and dropped out. McKay was assigned to storyboard sequences and assemble different edits before later leaving to instead direct The Tomorrow War. Liebesman took over McKay's duties and finished the film alongside Gaghan. The Lego Batman Movie scribe John Whittington had also performed rewrites on the script amid reshoots, and flew to London to meet with Downey, who allegedly tore Whittington's script apart in favor of "new ideas." The Hollywood Reporter stated that despite a "challenged production," there were no fights for power and no competing cuts for the film.[13] In August 2019, it was reported that the film's title had been changed from The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle to simply Dolittle.[14]

In January 2020, on Joe Rogan's podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, Downey Jr. discussed the inspiration for the Dr. Dolittle character in the film, which he said stemmed from a Welsh neo-pagan physician called William Price. He said, "Same way I did with Iron Man... before I signed on, I was just googling 'weirdest Welsh doctor,' I just wanted to think of, I don't want to just do another English accent.. so there was this guy called William Price, who's a nutty Welsh doctor, he was a neo-druidist, he believed that he could communicate with all nature and all that stuff, so I sent a picture of this wild looking guy wearing this kind of suit with stars on it and like a staff in his hand [to Gaghan]... and he goes, "That looks good to me" and I was like "great let's do this movie.""[15]

Music artist Sia performed a new song of hers, "Original," for the end credits, while Danny Elfman composed the film's score.[16]



The film was released by Universal Pictures. It was originally set for May 24, 2019, but was moved to April 12 of that year, to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which itself was later moved from May to December 20, 2019. The film was later moved again to January 17, 2020.[17]

Home media[edit]

Dolittle was released on Digital HD on March 24, 2020, and on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray on April 7, 2020.[18] As of July 12, 2020, the film had made $14.3 million in home media sales.[3]


Box office[edit]

Dolittle grossed $77 million in the United States and Canada, and $174 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $251 million, against a production budget of $175 million.[3] Due to its high production and marketing costs, The New York Observer estimated that the film needed to gross over $500 million worldwide to break even;[19] following its debut weekend, it was estimated the film would lose Universal between $50–100 million.[20][21]

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Bad Boys for Life, and was projected to gross $20–22 million from 4,155 theaters in its three-day opening weekend, and a total of around $27 million over the full four-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.[22][23] It made $6.3 million on its first day, including $925,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $22 million for three days, and $29.5 million over the four-day frame, finishing second, behind Bad Boys for Life.[20] The film made $12.1 million in its second weekend and $7.7 million in its third, remaining in second both times.[24][25]

After months of delays, the film was released in China on July 24, and made $5.2 million from about 3,000 screens in its opening weekend.[26] By August 6, the film had reached $14.6 million in grosses in the country.[27]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 14% based on 237 reviews, with an average rating of 4/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Dolittle may be enough to entertain very young viewers, but they deserve better than this rote adaptation's jumbled story and stale humor."[28] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 26 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[29] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported an average of 3 out of 5 stars from viewers they surveyed.[20]

Courtney Howard of Variety called the film a "frenetic, crass kids' flick" and wrote, "What should have been an awe-filled adventure quickly curdles into an awful one, thanks to a pedestrian formula and the filmmakers' fixation on fart jokes."[30] Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy said, "From the very first scene, it's clear something is terribly off with this lavishly misbegotten attempt to repopularize an animal-loaded literary franchise that was born exactly a century ago. The oddly diffident star and executive producer Robert Downey Jr. never finds the power-supplying third rail needed to energize a tale that fails to make a real case for being reinterpreted."[31]

British critic Mark Kermode gave the film a negative review, saying, "Terrible script. Terrible visuals. Dull plot. Dismal gags. The fact (is) that at 101 minutes it really tested one's patience. It is shockingly poor." He particularly criticized Robert Downey Jr.'s attempt at a Welsh accent, calling it "something from Mars."[32] In examining the film's ending, Douglas Laman of Screen Rant noted that the film as a whole suffered from numerous problems, including "...Dolittle's new backstory involving a deceased wife...the largely lifeless voice-over work of the animal characters [and] its painfully unfunny comedy."[33]

A segment in the film in which Dolittle and Kevin remove bagpipes from Ginko-Who-Soars' anus, inducing flatulence loud and severe enough to nearly knock Dolittle over and send Kevin flying towards a nearby wall, was criticised as "gross" and "disgusting."[34][35][36]


Award Ceremony date Category Subject Result Ref.
Costume Designers Guild Awards April 13, 2021 Excellence in Fantasy Film Jenny Beavan Nominated [37]
Golden Raspberry Awards April 24, 2021 Worst Picture Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum and Susan Downey Nominated [38]
Worst Director Stephen Gaghan Nominated
Worst Actor Robert Downey Jr. Nominated
Worst Screenplay Stephen Gaghan and Dan Gregor & Doug Mand;
Based on the character by Hugh Lofting
Worst Screen Combo Robert Downey Jr. and his utterly unconvincing "Welsh" accent Nominated
Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel Won
Kids' Choice Awards March 13, 2021 Favorite Movie Nominated [39]
Favorite Movie Actor Robert Downey Jr. Won
People's Choice Awards November 15, 2020 Family Movie of 2020 Nominated [40]
Male Movie Star of 2020 Robert Downey Jr. Nominated
Set Decorators Society of America Awards March 31, 2021 Best Achievement in Décor/Design of a Comedy or Musical Feature Film Lee Sandales and Dominic Watkins Nominated [41]


  1. ^ "Danny Elfman to Score 'The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Borys Kit (April 15, 2019). "'Ninja Turtles' Director Jonathan Liebesman Tackling 'Doctor Dolittle' Reshoots (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Dolittle". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  4. ^ "Kasia Smutniak: "Sul set con Robert Downey Jr."". (in Italian). June 18, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  5. ^ Ford, Rebecca; Kit, Borys (March 20, 2017). "Robert Downey Jr. to Star in 'The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  6. ^ Kroll, Justin (December 6, 2017). "Robert Downey Jr.'s 'Voyage of Doctor Dolittle' Taps 'Dunkirk' Actor Harry Collett (EXCLUSIVE)".
  7. ^ Kroll, Justin (December 12, 2017). "Jim Broadbent Joins Robert Downey Jr. in Universal's 'Voyage of Doctor Dolittle' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  8. ^ "Tom Holland, Emma Thompson Join Robert Downey Jr. in 'Doctor Dolittle'". The Hollywood Reporter. February 6, 2018.
  9. ^ Galuppo, Mia (February 6, 2018). "Selena Gomez Joins Robert Downey Jr.'s 'Doctor Dolittle' Movie (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
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  14. ^ Parlevliet, Mirko (August 12, 2019). "Dolittle Synopsis and New Title for the January Release". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  15. ^ Joe Rogan Experience #1411 - Robert Downey Jr. Joe Rogan. January 15, 2020. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved February 29, 2020 – via YouTube.
  16. ^ Sia - Original (from Dolittle Soundtrack). January 9, 2020. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved February 29, 2020 – via YouTube.
  17. ^ "Robert Downey Jr's Doctor Dolittle Movie Delayed to January 2020". Screen Rant. October 1, 2018.
  18. ^ "Dolittle DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  19. ^ Katz, Brandon (December 31, 2019). "Which Movies Are Most Likely to Bomb in 2020?". The New York Observer. Retrieved February 1, 2020.
  20. ^ a b c Anthony D'Alessandro (January 21, 2020). "How Sony Built 'Bad Boys For Life' Into A Success With $101M+ WW & $73M+ U.S.; 'Dolittle' Poised For $50M+ Loss – Monday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  21. ^ Jeremy Fuster (January 19, 2020). "Robert Downey Jr's 'Dolittle' Could Lose $100 Million at Box Office". TheWrap. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  22. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (January 15, 2020). "Can 'Bad Boys For Life' Keep The Sony Franchise Alive? – Box Office Preview". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  23. ^ Jeremy Fuster (January 14, 2020). "Can 'Bad Boys for Life' Succeed for Sony Where 'MIB: International' Failed?". TheWrap. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  24. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (January 24, 2020). "'Bad Boys For Life' & '1917' Shooting Past $100M; 'The Turning' Slammed With Second 'F' Of 2020". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  25. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (February 2, 2020). "'Bad Boys For Life' Scores Over Super Bowl Weekend With $17M+; 'Rhythm Section' Is A Mess". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  26. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (July 26, 2020). "'Dolittle' Tops $5M In China Bow As Market Sees Daily Increases; IMAX WW Takings Jump 30%, Boosted By Middle Kingdom & Korean 'Peninsula' – International Box Office". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  27. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (August 7, 2020). "'1917' Leads Charge On China's 3rd Friday Back To The Movies – International Box Office". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  28. ^ "Dolittle (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  29. ^ "Dolittle". Metacritic. Red Ventures. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
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  31. ^ Todd McCarthy (January 15, 2020). "'Dolittle': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  32. ^ Dolittle reviewed by Mark Kermode (video). February 7, 2020. Archived from the original on November 13, 2021. Retrieved February 11, 2020 – via YouTube.
  33. ^ Douglas Laman (March 30, 2020). "Dolittle Movie Ending Explained: Why It's So Bad". Screen Rant. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  34. ^ Jacob Stolworthy (January 18, 2020). "Dolittle viewers in shock over climactic scene involving constipated dragon".
  35. ^ Isla Williams (January 18, 2020). "Dolittle fans disgusted witnessing 'bagpipes being pulled out of dragon's a**'". Metro.
  36. ^ MACK RAWDEN (January 20, 2020). "Dolittle Viewers Can't Stop Commenting On That Really Gross Dragon Scene". CINEMABLEND.
  37. ^ "Costume Designer Guild Nominations Include 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' 'Emma,' 'Promising Young Woman' – IndieWire". March 4, 2021. Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  38. ^ Ferme, Antonio (March 12, 2021). "Razzie Awards 2021: Robert Downey Jr., Adam Sandler, Anne Hathaway Among Nominees". Variety. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  39. ^ Calvario, Liz (March 13, 2021). "2021 Kids' Choice Awards: The Complete Winners List". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved March 14, 2021.
  40. ^ Del Rosario, Alexandra (October 1, 2020). "E! People's Choice Awards Nominees List: 'The Old Guard', 'Birds Of Prey' Among Honorees". Deadline Hollywood.
  41. ^ Tangcay, Jazz (March 11, 2021). "'Promising Young Woman' and 'News of the World' Among Inaugural Set Decorators Awards Nominations". Variety. Retrieved June 23, 2021.

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