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Film / Dolittle

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"Somehow, we just belong together."
Dr. John Dolittle

Dolittle is a 2020 fantasy-adventure-comedy film starring Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved vet with the inexplicable ability to talk to animals. Starring an all-star cast, the film is a loose adaptation of the books by Hugh Lofting.

Dr. John Dolittle was one of the finest doctors in Victorian England, whose skills were only matched by his immense love of animals. Sadly, since the death of his wife seven years earlier, Dolittle became a hermit and recluse. Hiding behind the walls of his manor, the only company the doctor has left are the menagerie of animals who live with him.

Until one day, when he receives word that Queen Victoria has fallen ill and needs his expertise. Thus, the good doctor is forced to pack his animals and sail off to a mythical island in search of a cure. And so Dolittle’s adventures begin as he regains his wits and courage, encountering old adversaries and wondrous creatures...

For the films starring Eddie Murphy which were inspired in name and concept by the books, see here. Look here for the 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison. For the Pixies album, please see here.

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

Dolittle contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • RDJ does the same "roll the hat up the arm and onto the head" trick he did in Chaplin.
    • Michael Sheen plays a character with the first name of Blair. Sheen has three times been lauded for his role as former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
    • Antonio Banderas plays King Rassouli, who is very fond of big cats judging by the pride of lions that sleep in his room. This could be an allusion to his role as Puss in Boots.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the books, Dolittle simply preferred treating animals to people even if they couldn't pay him. The film version had a wife whose death causes him to become a recluse.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: In the books, Doctor Dolittle was a Nice Guy; always kind and genial to a point. Here, as a result of the Adaptational Angst Upgrade, he's more a Jerk with a Heart of Gold; rude, bitter and reclusive, but ultimately he does soften up.
  • Adaptation Species Change:
    • Chee-Chee was a chimpanzee in the book; in this movie, he's a gorilla.
    • Polynesia was an African grey parrot in the book; in the movie, she is a macaw.
    • In the books, Too-Too was an owl, here, she's a fox. And French.
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: All of Dolittle's animals coexist despite several being predators that would ordinarily prey on the others, though this is justified because he can talk to all of them and get them to cooperate. Less believable is Rassouli having his bedroom guarded by lions and tigers who do not eat him.
  • All There in the Manual: Even though it's not spoken in the film or shown in the credits, the dragon's name is Ginko-Who-Soars, according to promotional material.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: All the animals, even the insects, mice, and sugar gliders, are as intelligent as humans are, and can converse on the same level as Dolittle.
  • Anachronism Stew: Similar to many of the 90s Disney animated films, the animal sidekicks all speak in modern-day tones and use some current slang.
  • Animal Facial Hair: A bearded mouse living in Dolittle's beard.
  • Animal Talk: Animals of different species are able to communicate.
  • Ascended Extra: Kevin the squirrel, who was just a nameless one-off character in the book, here becomes a regular member of the cast.
  • Ass Shove: A dragon has an intestinal blockage that needs to be cleared, and Dolittle proceeds to shove a large leek into her butt (making her exclaim "Oh good heavens!") as a tool to begin removing things.
  • Beard of Sorrow: The doctor has one such from being seven years a grieving recluse.
  • Big Bad: Lord Thomas Badgley. He attends regicide by poisoning the Queen of England, quickies off the movie’s plot.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Plimpton has these and shares them with his voice actor.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Stubbins is caught in a net early in the film as he tries to reach Dolittle. At the end of the movie, when the doctor is back in the manor, the mailman ends up caught in the same net.
    • "That's a piece of celery."
  • Canon Foreigner: There are many more animals in this movie than there were in the books.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Animals in this universe are sentient, both predators & prey. Some of Dolittle's animals couldn't survive without meat, namely unseen parents of a lion cub.
  • Casting Gag: Once again, Robert Downey Jr. plays a famous Victorian-era character from literature that's known to be both incredibly eccentric and yet excels in his field of choice at what he does.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: The dragon reveals the cave where the fruit of the Eden Tree is; behind a waterfall in a cave-within-a-cave.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lady Rose makes note of Dolittle's phasmid blending in with a twig. After examining the Queen, Dolittle leaves it behind to spy on Blair and his cohorts, exposing them at the end.
  • Cool Ship: Dolittle's vessel that he and his animal companions use in their travels. It has a harness that allows him to hitch it to a whale if he needs to escape another vessel.
  • Cowardly Lion: This is Chee-Chee's schtick. He's a huge male lowland gorilla who's constantly scared of everything.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: A soldier at Buckingham Palace mentions talking to ladybugs, as opposed to ladybirds, the name used in Britain.
  • Disney Villain Death: Blair unceremoniously falls into a hole in the cave backing away from the dragon after claiming to turn over a new leaf and offering up a soldier for it to eat instead of him. Ultimately subverted during The Stinger.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: While it is not actually shown on screen, a soldier is burnt alive by the dragon.
  • Flat Character: Chee-Chee doesn't really get much to do within the film.
  • Flipping the Bird: A whale does this to Blair, who interprets it as waving. The whales get a good laugh out of it.
  • Fluffy Dry Cat: A sugar glider being sumberged into aquarium and shaking off water, with fur much longer than in reality after puffing up.
  • For the Evulz: Lord Thomas Badgley wants to poison the Queen so he can be king? Why, you ask? Probably cause he’s just an asshole.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Played with. Dr. Dolittle can speak with every type of animal there is (preferring animals over people)...though not all animals are his friends.
  • Groin Attack: Chee-Chee defeats Barry the tiger by kneeing him "right in the Barry-Barries."
  • Incorrect Animal Noise: Chimpanzee sounds for capuchin monkeys, and real stick insects and house spiders cannot make sounds at all.
    "Nobody told me there'd be a dragon!" - Plimpton
  • Made of Indestructium: Objects removed from dragon's butt are undamaged (not burned, crushed or partially digested), there is even a human arm remaining articulated and a functioning bagpipe.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Zig-zagged depending on how you define 'mundane'. The sign on the doctor's manor alludes to considering "magical quests" at one point in the film. The doctor's talent for animals speaking to him and each other is never identified as a mundane talent or a magical one (It is however shown that it can be taught, as Dollitle is shown teaching Stubbins. This suggests it is a learned skill rather than a magical ability Dolittle was born with).
    • The exact nature of the dragon and her connection to the Eden tree is left unexplained. On the one hand she appears to be flesh and blood like any other animal as Dolittle is able to successfully diagnose that she had an intestinal blockage that would have eventually killed her and the seemingly magical abilities including bioluminescence and breathing-fire can be explained in scientific terms. On the other it’s never clarified exactly how and why she came to guard the tree with Dolittle himself only saying he is aware protecting the tree is her “duty”.
  • Moody Trailer Cover Song: The trailer uses Reuben and the Dark's version of "What a Wonderful World".
  • Mouse World: Played with. Several items in the doctor's home, such as a tiny working locomotive, are sized for the mice. The mice also participate by playing chessmen on his chess set.
  • Mythology Gag: Barry the tiger's emotional issues in this movie recall the modernized adaptation starring Eddie Murphy, where a depressed and suicidal tiger plays a prominent role in the story.
    • Likewise, the dragon's ten-second burst of flatulence may be a nod to the sick rat who thought he was going to die of a heart attack, but then simply did a big (well, for a rat) toot. Of course, the dragon was actually dying of distress caused by a serious intestinal blockage.
  • Nature Lover: Dolittle qualifies, his estate in the countryside is full of animals that he has provided a home and he uses his ability to talk to animals in order to help cure them of their various ailments.
  • No, You: Blair Mudfly's response to the captain of his ship accusing him of being obsessed with Dolittle.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: The dragonfly has a more cartoony character design than the rest of the animals. His design especially stands out compared to the ants and the walking stick insect due to his goggly eyes and conventional mouth that insects do not have.
  • The Nose Knows: Jip uses his sense of smell to identify an unusual scent coming from the Queen, then matches that scent to the nightshade flower, thus showing that she was poisoned.
  • Offering Another in Your Stead: Right after Dr. Dolittle pushes his hated rival Blair Mudfly out of the way of a blast of flames fired by the dragon who guards the Eden Tree, Blair, genuinely surprised that his enemy would save his life like that, decides to become good- but being a self-serving coward, his idea of being "good" consists of pushing one of his own soldiers towards the dragon and begging her to kill the soldier instead of him. It doesn't work, and the dragon just knocks him down an oubliette. Luckily for Blair, as shown in The Stinger, falling down the hole doesn't kill him- unluckily, the swarm of hungry bats he tries to communicate with does.
  • Ostrich Head Hiding: Plimpton the ostrich hides his head whenever he doesn't want to do something for Dolittle.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Dolittle is full of these, only punctuated by the fact he's the only human who understands the animals.
    • Rassouli hates Dolittle for taking away his daughter and then letting her die on an adventure, but because they share the same grief, he gifts Dolittle with a new ship (albeit a really crappy one) after Blair sinks the first because Dolittle is trying to finish Lily's life's work.
  • Pink Is Feminine: Lady Rose dresses in pink.
  • Read the Fine Print: The plot is kickstarted by the Queen's falling ill. Should she die, then the deed to Dolittle's home would revert to the treasury, who could then sell it and evict him. Dolittle, thinking "in perpetuity" meant his life, bemoans that he had his monkeys proofread the contract as opposed to doing so personally (whether he attempts to revise the contract to prevent further manipulation after having cured the queen is unknown).
  • Running Gag: The duck gives the doctor vegetables every time he asks for a medical tool. He ends up using the vegetables in an operation at one point.
  • Ship Tease: Plenty between Stubbins and Lady Rose through the film, such as the latter giving the former her scarf before the journey starts. In fact, Lady Rose kisses Stubbins on the cheek towards the end of the film.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal:
    • Dr. Dolittle can fluently converse with animals as a natural ability.
    • Stubbins slowly learns to converse with animals, with some help from Dolittle.
  • The Stinger: A mid-credits scene shows Blair has survived his fall into the deep hole in the dragon’s cave. When he wakes up, he sees bats on the ceiling and tries to talk to them with animal sounds like Dolittle. Unfortunately, the bats all swarm up on his body to attack him.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Being able to talk to animals does not automatically make you best friends with all of them. Especially if we're talking about predatory species like Lions, tigers, hyenas and Fire-Breathing dragons
    • The dragon guarding the Eden tree regularly eats humans who wear large, heavy things that do not agree with its digestive system. Dolittle has to clear a blockage consisting of various armor pieces and other things that have gotten caught in her colon and would have killed her eventually.
  • Tagline: "He's just not a people person."
  • Toilet Humor:
    • Jip the dog "marks the perimeter" by dragging his bottom across the floor of the Queen's bed-chamber.
    • During the removal of blockages from the colon of an animal patient (a dragon), the doctor warns that there may be a release of wind. It lasts for nearly ten seconds and blows hard enough to blow Dolittle's hair and skin back.
  • Trailers Always Lie: In every trailer and TV spot, Barry the tiger growls "Hello, lunch." This line is not in the movie, instead, he says "Doctor Dolittle, remember me? your old patient... it's Barry (Growls)".
  • Trailers Always Spoil: While many of the trailers featured the dragon reveal, in the movie, it is meant to be an absolutely huge reveal that is foreshadowed early on by the film's villain.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: One of the animals vomits bile onto Dolittle and several soldiers.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Funnily enough, in a film about "talking" animals, it is the pilloried human prisoner on Rassouli's ship who is only seen in the scene when he is discovered and never mentioned again.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Dolittle's accent is insanely hard to pin down. There are elements of Irish / Scottish, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian accents all mixed in there. It's just as bad as Bane's. Officially, he's supposed to be Welsh.

♫ I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world. ♫