Follow TV Tropes


Film / Doctor Dolittle

Go To

"If I could walk with the animals and talk with the animals
Grunt, squeak and squawk with the animals
And, lord, they could talk to me..."

A 1967 American musical film, directed by Richard Fleischer and based on the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting. It stars Rex Harrison in the title role, with Samantha Eggar as Emma Fairfax, Anthony Newley as Matthew Mugg, and Richard Attenborough as Albert Blossom. Script, songs and score were written by Leslie Bricusse.

The film had a Troubled Production, with hundreds of animals to wrangle, location shooting troubles, and Harrison throwing his weight around. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs even had a heart attack during production (but was happy to get another pet project of his, Planet of the Apes, greenlit by the studio). It was a critical and commercial flop, but managed to score two Academy Awards, for Original Song ("Talk to the Animals") and Special Effects.

Many years later, the film received a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation, with Mark Williams as Dolittle.

(For the Eddie Murphy films, see Dr. Dolittle.)

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Rex Harrison's Doctor Dolittle is far colder and more impatient than the jovial, excitable and friendly man of the original books. Can said to be a sort of Character Exaggeration, since even in the books the Doctor occasionally showed traces of being Better with Non-Human Company... just not nearly to the extent of rudeness as the Doctor in this movie.
    • Gen. Bellows is much nastier than his book counterpart or any of the book characters whose roles he absorbs.
  • Adaptational Name Change:
    • Alexander Blossom the circus ringmaster becomes Albert Blossom.
    • Spider Monkey Island becomes Sea Star Island
    • The Great Glass Sea Snail becomes the Great Pink Sea Snail
    • Colonel Bellowes becomes General Bellows
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Blossom doesn't steal money from the circus and run off.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film fuses The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Doctor Dolittle's Circus with additional plot elements from The Story of Doctor Dolittle and Doctor Dolittle's Garden.
  • Age Lift: Matthew Mugg the Cat's Meat Man is much younger than his book counterpart who was in his thirties.
  • A Head at Each End: The Pushmi-Pullyu, a llama-like creature with two front halves joined at the waist.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: The Doctor to a certain extent, mainly in terms of money.
  • Animal Stereotypes: Subverted in "Like Animals".
  • Animated Adaptation: The 1970 TV cartoon produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises was loosely based on this film, though with characterizations closer to the original books.
  • Ascended Extra: Col. Bellowes was a minor character in Voyages, but a major antagonist here.
  • Better with Non-Human Company: Doctor Dolittle can speak with animals and relates well to them, but aside from a few close friends humans are really hard for him to deal with.
  • Big Eater: Magistrate General Bellows. According to his dog Rufus, he regularly enjoys meals that include things like four helpings of roast pheasant, two helpings of boiled trout, and six large portions of blackberry pie with whipped cream.
  • Brutal Honesty: Dolittle, partly due to him being Better with Non-Human Company. Emma calls him "very rude" because of what he said about her uncle, but she follows up with "Of course, I wouldn't mind so much except everything he said was true."
  • Canon Foreigner: Emma Fairfax and William Shakespeare the X. Story-wise, they loosely fill in for Theodosia and Prince Bumpo.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted. We rarely see Dolittle interacting with cats, but in "Like Animals," he makes it clear their "affection is plain."
  • Composite Character:
    • Col. Bellows combines the original minor character with the owner of the plow horse with spectacles, Sir William Peabody, and the judge Eustace Beauchamp Conckley from Voyages.
    • William Shakespeare the X is a mix of Prince Bumpo and the chief of the Popsipetels.
  • Cool Boat: (after a fashion) The Great Pink Sea Snail.
  • Decision Darts: How they choose to visit the floating island. The idea is to open an atlas to a random page, close your eyes, and then jab a pin randomly.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Emma Fairfax starts out hating the doctor's guts. Thanks to Matthew (and his singing) she warms up considerably.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • The Pushmi-Pullyu in the books had a far bigger role; here, it's reduced to a Mythology Gag and cameo.
    • Long Arrow is only obliquely referenced as a American Indian friend of the Doctor's
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Averted with Dolittle's dog Jip, whose excellent sense of smell provides a wonderful navigation system aboard the Flounder.
  • Giant Flyer: The giant lunar moth.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Doctor disguises a seal as an old woman in order to smuggle her away from a circus. It works so well that when he throws her into the ocean (so she can go home to see her husband) he gets arrested and charged with murder!
  • Hollywood Natives: The inhabitants of Sea Star Island initially appear to fit this trope, but it turns out to be a deliberate subversion. They are, in fact, highly educated and cultured, fluent in multiple languages, and only detain newcomers because of bad experiences with explorers. Granted, they plan to kill Dolittle's party for bringing bad fortune, but even that's done in strict accordance with their established laws.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • During "The Reluctant Vegetarian," we see Matthew Mugg agreeing that "meat is very unhealthy for you"—while chowing down on sausage.
    • "If I weren't late for my fox hunt, I'd report you for cruelty to animals."
  • "I Am" Song: "The Reluctant Vegetarian", in which he explains how his life has changed since he started talking with animals.
  • Improbable Food Budget: He gets minimal salary, either in money or favors, yet he manages to feed hundreds of animals.
  • In Defence of Storytelling: Matthew sings two songs celebrating the Doctor's imagination.
  • "I Want" Song:
    • "Talk to the Animals" for Dolittle.
    • Emma "Fred" Fairfax has one of these, about how she wants to escape the strictures of being a lady in 1845 England. Gets double points because it starts as being about another desire—the fact that she'd like to kill Dolittle.
  • Jerkass: General Bellows is cruel to animals, has a blowhard personality, and tries to get Dolittle committed to the madhouse.
  • Kindly Vet: Naturally. Being able to talk with his patients helps even more.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Tommy Stubbins, of all people.
    • When he and his friends have been imprisoned by the natives of Sea Star Island:
      Stubbins: [cheerfully] I bet you anything you like they're going to kill us.
      Emma: Whoever said children have beautiful minds has obviously never met you.
    • Later, when Dolittle and the gang are about to be executed:
      Stubbins: [gleefully] I once read a story about a tribe who would burn people alive, and ate them for dinner. I bet that's what they're going to do to us.
      Dolittle: Stubbins, will you please put a curb on your lurid imagination?
  • Perpetual Poverty: The Doctor spends all his money looking after animals. Not helped by the fact that most of his clients are wild animals, who pay him in foodstuffs rather than actual currency.
  • Rewritten Pop Version: The published version of "When I Look In Your Eyes" replaces the line "Isn't it a pity you're a seal?" with "How I love the world your eyes reveal."
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Doctor Dolittle learns how to speak with the animals from his talking parrot. A Translation Convention is not used; conversations are shown taking place in gestures and animal noises, with Dolittle translating the important parts into English for the benefit of his human companions.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Emma Fairfax again. She can be quite amiable to her companions but sometimes behaves like the snobbish lady she claims she doesn't want to be.
  • Tagalong Kid: Tommy Stubbins. This seems to be his only purpose throughout much of the film.
  • Traveling Landmass: Seastar Island.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?:
    Matt: I told you Flounder was a terrible name for a boat!
    Dolittle: Nonsense. Flounder is a wonderful little fish, survived for millions of years.
    Matt: Hah! Aye, below the surface!
  • You No Take Candle: Dolittle initially addresses a native of Sea Star Island this way, until he learns the man speaks fluent English.