Renowned veterinarian, Doctor John Dolittle (Rex Harrison), is a strange and fantastic man. He has learned nearly five hundred different animal languages. His whole house seems to be run and overrun by his animal companions, his chimp, Chee-Chee, answers the door and tends to the dinner cooking over the fire. Dolittle refers to his 118 year old parrot, Polynesia as a feathered historian and he never eats meat, because it upsets the animals. When Matthew (Anthony Newly) and little Tommy (William Dix) bring Dolittle an injured duck, they stick with Dolittle through some zany adventures and amazing travels.
For those over the age of ten, the key to enjoying Doctor Dolittle is just to relax and take a big suspension of disbelief. You’re about to encounter a world where the adventures include a two headed llama, a seal disguised as a woman, a floating island full of highly educated natives and jetting back to England on the legendary Giant Lunar Moth. Between the terrible talk-singing, these wonderfully weird, magical moments can be really fun, but only if you let your guard down to enjoy them.
The film feels very silly at times, like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants. One minute, a two headed llama is shipped to Dolittle, which looks absolutely ridiculous as far as bad animal costumes go. Next thing you know, we’re at the circus, meeting Sophie, a seal who misses her husband. Before we can even comprehend their hair-brained plan, the seal is wearing a bonnet and we don’t care how ridiculous the whole plot is anymore because that seal looks so stupidly cute.
The human characters, besides Dolittle, can feel more like props at times. Matthew and Emma (Samantha Eggar) are just the young budding love, because we need more romance and female presence than Sophie and her seal husband. I felt like Tommy was just there for the kids to identify with, all he really does is state a few obvious things. Polynesia has more insightful things to say, and we like him more. The film just needs a few extra human hands for the adventure and more human contact for Dolittle to have audible conversations with, but the animal friendships are so much more fun.
What makes this film so great is how fantastic, silly and weird it really is. If you’re looking for a steadfast and well structured plot, you’re just going to pull your hair out over this film. But if you have kids that squeal with delight over animals, they will go nuts over this movie. And watching them get into it will probably help adults enjoy it more. If you don’t have any children to gather up, pour yourself a good drink, relax and just go with whatever the film throws at you.
“I speak over two thousand languages, including Dodo and Unicorn. I had a classical education.”