Contrary to how it may appear sometimes, most critics are rooting for the movies they watch. It’s much more fun to be dazzled than appalled, or worse, disappointed by a beloved franchise.
However, when a true stinker excretes its way into the multiplex, critics take palpable pleasure in eviscerating it. Going into the third box office weekend of this young year, the Robert Downey Jr. reiteration of Doolittle appears to have presented just such an opportunity.
The 13%-scoring critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads thusly: “Dolittle may be enough to entertain very young viewers, but they deserve better than this rote adaptation’s jumbled story and stale humor.” Oof!
That summary only offers a glimpse at the depths of critical ire around the film, which has provoked an onslaught of razor-sharp zingers with laser-sight precision. To wit, from Gizmodo: “Just when I thought Dolittle couldn’t get any less funny or idiotic, Robert Downey Jr. sticks his arms up a dragon’s asshole. And I do mean that literally.”
In turn, critics are getting revenge by treating the movie about as gently as its lead character did that dragon. For starters, they were not impressed with the film’s star, Downey Jr, in his first post-Marvel vehicle.
“Downey’s revival of Hugh Lofting’s legendary loquacious veterinarian, one who can communicate with any member of any species, splats onto the screen like horse dung, with few laughs and no charm. Even the actor’s legendary charisma, which this project sorely needed, gets tamped down by making a depressed widower the hero of a kiddie movie and by having that widower mumble in an accent that’s possibly Welsh, perhaps Irish, maybe Scottish, but definitely the enemy of comedy.” —The Wrap
“Downey’s Dolittle is one weird creation — not in an inspired, Gene-Wilder-as-Willie-Wonka way, but in a baffling, Johnny-Depp-as-Mortdecai way. He’s a bit of this, a bit of that: a fun-loving kook and surly recluse in a tie-dyed vest.” —Newsday
“There’s got to be a moment, as an actor watches himself on-screen pulling bagpipes out of a CGI dragon’s rear end, that he thinks, ‘Have I really fallen this far?'” —NY Post
“While one can make excuses for the non-uniformity of all those voiceover accents, seeing as how the animals hail from all over the globe, it’s a puzzle trying to figure out Downey’s mush-mouthed Welsh accent. Considering that Dolittle’s signature is the fact he can talk to animals, it’s a puzzle why Downey’s performance sounds as if it were entirely looped in ADR.” —Variety
“No doctor can cure what ails this Dolittle. 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; you can practically hear little kids whining, ‘Mommy, Daddy, can we go now?'” —The Hollywood Reporter
Critics did not enjoy the crass corporate nature of the film, which reportedly underwent several reshoots.
“The new film Dolittle proves there’s more than one way to spell “Dolittle,” its preferred spelling being “J-u-m-a-n-j-i.” In what feels like a corporate panic, co-writer and director Stephen Gaghan’s franchise hopeful trades charm for noise, and wit for a climactic dragon colonoscopy (don’t ask, don’t tell).” —Chicago Tribune
“Amidst what feels like the fingerprints of a thousand studio executives, it’s also nearly impossible to nail down the original intentions of the director who actually made it (the same man, improbably, who took home a screenwriting Oscar for Traffic nearly two decades ago).” —Entertainment Weekly
“The film’s humor… reeks of after-the-fact punch-up prompted by negative test-audience feedback.” —AV Club
“One of the alleged reasons behind the reshoots was a need for more comedy and while the film is filled with attempted comic moments, they’re almost entirely lacklustre, snappy one-liners failing to snap and an overreliance on tiresome contemporary phrases (at one point Queen Victoria’s octopus warns that ‘snitches get stitches’).” —The Guardian
Several critics couldn’t help draw comparisons to the recent animal atrocity of Cats.
“‘Dolittle,’ starring Robert Downey Jr., arrives just weeks after the advent of ‘Cats,’ another Universal Pictures release likewise stuffed with computer generated animals. ‘Dolittle’ is a more harmless and whimsical family entertainment, less likely to provoke nightmares than the digitally furred felines of Tom Hooper’s Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation. But, just the same, the two films together could be the worst setback for animalia since global warming, or at least ‘Howard the Duck.'” —The Inquirir
“Of course, nothing could exactly compare to the reality-bending, interdimensional journey that is Cats. This version of Dolittle (as in the doctor who talks to animals, here played by Robert Downey Jr.) is awfully tame in comparison. But there are still a few glimmers of madness to be found in this exorbitantly expensive January toss-off, which could prove satisfying for certain sickos and freaks out there who have, post-Cats, become hooked on cinematic car crashes involving digitized faunae.” —Vanity Fair
But mostly, critics just had a bad time overall and seemed upset about every element of the film.
“The adventures at sea and on the islands play out like low-rent, animal-centric scenes from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. By the time the doc endures massive dragon flatulence while performing emergency surgery on the fire-breathing creature, Dolittle has solidified its standing as a spectacularly terrible multi-vehicle pileup.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“It’s mostly a relentlessly digitally animated romp that has everything except a script, which, somehow, four people still managed to work on.” —Boston Globe
“While some (but not all) of those actors manage to infuse their personality into their animal, the dialogue and humor being delivered by those voices is so unfunny it hurts. Again, one could maybe chalk that up to Dolittle just being a kid’s movie—but the screening I attended was filled with kids and adults, and the silence throughout was deafening.” —Gizmodo
“At some point during its troubled gestation, the movie once known as ‘The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle’ was renamed ‘Dolittle.’ Was ‘voyage’ too fusty, ‘doctor’ too fancy? Whatever the case, it’s too bad that the rest of this movie couldn’t have been ditched as well, or at least dramatically shortened.” —New York Times
“Dolittle is the result of the kind of taxidermy that gave us jackalopes. Huge chunks of the animal are missing, and other bits and pieces have been superimposed in a way that doesn’t make sense. But there’s one key difference between Dolittle and bad taxidermy: At least bad taxidermy is memorable.” —Polygon
“Ultimately, Dolittle is not just a weak story, badly told, but a puzzling waste of talent. (The only silver lining? A relatively fleet running time.) Here’s hoping the cast bought themselves something nice with the money they made. Though, to be honest, the only decent thing to do with it would have been to distribute it — a kind of movie malpractice award — among this doctor’s real victims.” —Washington Post
“The kind of movie whose incompetence boggles the mind and corrupts the soul. You go into this thing expecting silly insouciance and walk away from it questioning reality. It is anti-cinema.” —Vulture
Ultimately, it looks like Doolittle did a lot of wrong. Plan your movie-watching weekend accordingly.