Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Gaghan|
|Story by||Thomas Shepherd|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$227.9 million|
Dolittle (also referred to as The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle) is a 2020 American fantasy comedy adventure film directed by Stephen Gaghan from a screenplay by Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on a story by Thomas Shepherd. A reboot of the original Doctor Dolittle film and its modern comedy counterparts, the film is based on the titular character created by Hugh Lofting, and primarily inspired by The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the author's second Doctor Dolittle book. Robert Downey Jr. stars as the title character, alongside Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen in live action roles, and a voice cast including Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, and Marion Cotillard.
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.
Dolittle was theatrically released in the United States on January 17, 2020, by Universal Pictures. It received generally negative reviews from critics for its screenplay, plot and humor. Having grossed $227 million worldwide, it is the third highest-grossing film of 2020, although it was a box office bomb, with projected losses for the studio as high as $100 million.
Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is a veterinarian who has the ability to communicate with animals. After his wife, Lily (Kasia Smutniak) dies at sea, Dolittle becomes a recluse, tending to only animals and refusing to contact or assist with other humans. One day, a boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) accidentally shoots and wounds a squirrel named Kevin (Craig Robinson) and is guided to Dolittle for help by a macaw named Polynesia (Emma Thompson).
Meanwhile, Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) sends a girl named Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) with a message, ordering Dolittle to come in order to try to cure the queen of a deadly sickness. After being persuaded by Polynesia that he has to start trying to reconnect with fellow humans, Dolittle finally decides to go. Upon reaching her, he finds that the Queen has been poisoned by a type of nightshade that was added to her tea. To be cured, she must eat a fruit from a far away land.
After Polynesia, Betsy the giraffe (Selena Gomez) and Tutu the fox (Marion Cotillard) help Tommy escape from his home, he, Dolittle, and Dolittle's crew of animals, consisting of Polynesia, Kevin, monkeys Elliot and Elsie, Chee-Chee the gorilla (Rami Malek), Yoshi the polar bear (John Cena), Plimpton the ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), Dab-Dab the duck (Octavia Spencer) and Mini the sugar glider (Nick A. Fisher) put to sail, hoping to find the cure while trying to escape Dolittle's lifelong rival Dr. Blair Müdfly (Michael Sheen). Dolittle leaves his lurcher Jip (Tom Holland) and a walking stick behind to guard the Queen while he's traveling. Along the way, Dolittle's boat is attacked by Müdfly, but they manage to escape by attaching a harness to a whale that pulls the boat to safety.
They continue to the island where Lily was born. While attempting to steal Lily's journal which details the way to the fruit tree, Dolittle is captured by his former father-in-law King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas) and is locked in a cage with Barry (Ralph Fiennes), a moody tiger looking for his mother's approval. Just when it seems Dolittle is to be killed, Chee-Chee arrives and incapacitates Barry. Dolittle and Stubbins escape only to be captured by Müdfly and have their ship destroyed. After seeing a crestfallen Dolittle, Rassouli loans him a boat to honour his daughter.
Trailing Müdfly, Dolittle and company arrive at the cure tree's island, where they meet Ginko-Who-Soars (Frances de la Tour), a dragon who guards the tree since her husband's death. Ginko begins attacking before she collapses due to internal pain. Dolittle figures out what is hurting the dragon and proceeds to perform a dragon enema. Relieved and thankful, Ginko shows Dolittle the tree with the cure.
Dolittle's entourage returns just in time to heal the queen. Dolittle’s walking stick reveals that Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent), one of the Queen's chairmen, poisoned her in order to take the crown for himself. The queen has him arrested for treason.
Dolittle re-opens the doors to his sanctuary, now including Stubbins as his official apprentice.
In a mid-credits scene, Müdfly is trying to talk with the bats who turn around and attack him.
- Robert Downey Jr. as Dr. John Dolittle, a widowed veterinarian who has the ability to speak to animals.
- Harry Collett as Tommy Stubbins, Dolittle's self-appointed apprentice.
- Antonio Banderas as King Rassouli, the king of pirates who was Lily's father and Dolittle’s father-in-law.
- Michael Sheen as Dr. Blair Müdfly, an old schoolmate and rival of Dolittle who gradually becomes impressed by Dolittle's special ability.
- Jim Broadbent as Lord Thomas Badgley, one of the Queen's dishonest chairmen.
- Jessie Buckley as Queen Victoria, the Queen of England.
- Carmel Laniado as Lady Rose, a maid of honor to the Queen and Tommy's friend.
- Kasia Smutniak as Lily Dolittle, Dolittle's deceased wife and King Rassouli's daughter.
- Ralph Ineson as Arnall Stubbins, Tommy's uncle.
- Joanna Page as Bethan Stubbins, Tommy's aunt.
- Sonny Ashbourne Serkis as Arnall Stubbins Jr., Tommy's cousin.
- Emma Thompson as Polynesia, a wise and brave macaw and Dolittle’s most trusted advisor.
- Rami Malek as Chee-Chee, a shy but noble gorilla.
- John Cena as Yoshi, a happy-go-lucky but always cold polar bear who wears a chullo.
- Kumail Nanjiani as Plimpton, a mischievous and critical but well-meaning ostrich who wears striped stockings and quarrels with Yoshi.
- Octavia Spencer as Dab-Dab, a helpful but deluded duck with a metal leg.
- Tom Holland as Jip, a loyal dog who wears glasses.
- Craig Robinson as Kevin, a cheeky-chappy squirrel with attitude.
- Ralph Fiennes as Barry, an aggressive tiger who has a past with Dolittle and wants to please his mother.
- Selena Gomez as Betsy, a friendly giraffe.
- Marion Cotillard as Tutu, a French fox who is best friends with Betsy.
- Jason Mantzoukas as James, a comical dragonfly who meets Dolittle in a prison cell from which he helps him escape.
- Frances de la Tour as Ginko-Who-Soars, a fire-breathing dragon who guards a magical fruit.
- Nick A. Fisher as Mini, a cute sugar glider.
- Tim Trelor as Humphrey, a whale.
- Jim Carretta as Beard Mouse
- Jim Carretta also voices Leona
- Ranjani Brow and Kelly Stables as Mice
- Scott Menville as Army Ant
- Will Arnett as a rabbit in one of Rassouli's prison cells and a friend of Barry.
Baby animals voiced by Gia Davis, Henry Holcomb, Kyrie Mcalpin, and Isley Zamora.
On March 20, 2017, it was announced that Robert Downey Jr. would star in The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, a feature adaptation of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. In December 2017, Harry Collett and Jim Broadbent were cast. In February 2018, Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen were cast in live-action roles, while Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez were cast to voice animals, including a tiger, bear, and a lioness. In March 2018, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour and Carmen Ejogo joined the voice cast. The character of Regine, a lioness voiced by Ejogo, was cut from the finished film.
Principal production commenced mid-February in 2018. Live-action scenes began filming in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria in May 2018, with further location filming at South Forest, Windsor Great Park and on the Menai Suspension Bridge in North West Wales, in June 2018.
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 helped write 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. Prior to this, Universal had turned towards Seth Rogen and Neighbors co-writer Brendan O'Brien to help make the film funnier. 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 performed rewrites on the script amid reshoots and had flown to London to meet with Downey, who allegedly tore Whittington's script apart in favor of "new ideas". The Hollywood Reporter claims that despite a "challenged production" there were no fights for power and no competing cuts for the film. In August 2019, it was reported that the film's title had been changed from The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle to simply Dolittle.
In January 2020, Robert Downey Jr discussed on Joe Rogan's podcast (The Joe Rogan Experience) that the premise of the Dr. Dolittle character in his film stemmed from a Welsh neo-pagan physician called William Price. In the podcast he said: "Same way I did with Iron Man.. all right there's something here and then 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, so I sent that to Gaghan and he goes, "That looks good to me" and I was like "great let's do this movie"".
The film was originally going to be released on May 24, 2019, by Universal Pictures but was moved to April 12, 2019, to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (which was later moved to December 20, 2019).
As of March 19, 2020[update], Dolittle has grossed $77 million in the United States and Canada, and $150.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $227.9 million, against a production budget of $175 million. Due to its high production and marketing costs, the film will need to gross around $500 million in order to break even; following its debut weekend, it was estimated the film would lose the studio between $50–100 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film was projected to gross $20–22 million from 4,155 theaters in its opening weekend, and a total of around $27 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. It made $6.3 million on its first day, including $925,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $22 million (and $29.5 million over the four-day frame), finishing third behind fellow newcomer Bad Boys for Life and holdover 1917. The film made $12.1 million in its second weekend and $7.7 million in its third, remaining in third both times.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film held an approval rating of 14% based on 209 reviews, with an average rating of 3.85/10. The website'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." On Metacritic, the film had a weighted average score of 26 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported an average 3 out of 5 stars.
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." Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy said that "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".
British film critic Mark Kermode gave the film a negative review, saying, "Terrible script. Terrible visuals. Dull plot. Dismal gags. The fact 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." In examining the films 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." 
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