By Troy Ribeiro
"Dolittle"; Cast: Robert Downey Jr. Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Harry Collett, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holand ; Direction: Stephen Gaghan; Rating: ** & 1/2 (two and half stars)
Director Stephen Gaghan's "Dolittle" is a fantastical adventure based on the eponymous central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting.
Doctor Dolittle (Downey) is a physician who shuns human patients in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their language. He later becomes a naturalist, using his abilities to speak with animals to better understand nature and the history of the world. Impressed with his work the Queen of England (Jessie Buckley) gives him a manor in the countryside, which he uses to house all sorts of animals from far and wide.
Over the years, the good doctor falls in love with Lily (Kasia Smutnaik), an adventurous explorer, and together they have adventures around the world. But when Lily attempts to cross the ocean all alone, she perishes in a storm.
Dolittle retreats from the world and squirrels away in his British countryside manor. His lush, palatial estate soon falls into disrepair, overgrown with vines and greenery that provide a protective layer to shut out human company.
The narrative propels into high gear after the eccentric Dolittle's life of solitude is interrupted by Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett), a young man compelled to become an apprentice, and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), the Queen's daughter, who lands up at the doctor's place to request him to attend to the Queen who is presumably on her deathbed.
A reluctant Dolittle agrees to attend to the Queen after realising that his stakes are high. He undertakes a treacherous journey along with Tommy Stubbins and his coterie of animals, to fetch the antidote that will save the Queen.
During his journey he fends off a rogues' gallery of good-for-nothings, including the devious palace doctor Dr, Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen), the crooked Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent) and the conniving King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas) who happens to be Lily's father.
The performances are noteworthy and enticing, including those who have lent their voices for the animated characters. They pump life into their characters with gusto.
On the production and technical front, the outcome is flawless. The frames are visually bright and colourful. Also, the film boasts of fine and cute collection of computer generated creatures that deliver heartening messages about psychological trauma, and yet it tests your patience with overly complicated noisy scenarios caused by Craig Alperts' edits. Sometimes the cuts are ruthlessly abrupt and at times many dialogues and momentous situations are drowned by Danny Elfman's overbearing score.
Overall, the problem with "Dolittle" is its story. The plot is elaborately formulaic, repetitive and predictable. There is no novelty factor in the gimmicks or in the period, set-up.