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Dr. Dolittle

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dr. Dolittle

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis
Director: Betty Thomas
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: June 1998
Genres: Comedy, Family

Review by Brian Koller
2 stars out of 4

The original Dr. Dolittle was a children's book by Hugh Lofting. It was later a 1927 German-made silent film. The version most familiar, of course, is the 1967 film starring a diffident Rex Harrison, which was perhaps the worst film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. The 1967 film did win an Oscar for Best Song, "Talk to the Animals". The song is the only link to the latest incarnation, which is a comedy starring Eddie Murphy.

Murphy began his film career on a high note, in "48 HRS." and "Trading Places". His films have never the same since then, although "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor" were good efforts. Murphy is a gifted comic, an inspired mimic and trash talker, and a master of the double take. But as he has succeeded in reaching a mass audience in making films with strongest appeal to children, he has had to abandon much of his R-rated persona in the process. The older, tamer Murphy still owns the double take, but I miss his more dangerous side.

The plot of "Doctor Dolittle" has Murphy cast as a successful surgeon, about to complete some kind of sell-out to a conglomerate with some fellow doctors that will make them all even more rich. Murphy suddenly realizes that he can communicate with animals, and his resulting bizarre behavior threatens to sabotoge the business deal. There are four plot lines to provide mild suspense: Will the business deal come off? Will Murphy's loyal wife (Kristen Wilson) write him off as a lunatic? Can Murphy save the life of a tiger with double vision? Will Murphy accept his misfit daughter (Kyla Pratt) who also has a thing for animals?

Other movies, notably "Babe" and certain Disney cartoons, have had success with talking animals. But these animals only talked to other animals, and lived in an innocent world unaware of human pop culture. Not so in "Doctor Doolittle", which has the spunky pet guinea pig (voiced by Chris Rock) disco dancing and imitating Bob Dylan. Other incongruities (e.g. a pair of penguins appear unescorted at Murphy's door; a tiger threatens to commit suicide by jumping from a tower) tag the film as pandering to an audience of pre-adolescents, the only audience who will buy into the fun.

"Doctor Doolittle" earns its PG-13 rating with some bathroom humor, and a repeated story line that has Murphy about to make love to his wife, but gets interrupted by pesky talking animals.

Copyright 1998 Brian Koller

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