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Film / Dr. Dolittle

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When the word is out, the doctor is in!

Dr. Dolittle is a 1998 comedy film starring Eddie Murphy as a doctor who has the ability to talk to animals. It is inspired by the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting, but doesn't much resemble them.

A sequel, Dr. Dolittle 2, was released in 2001. There are also three more direct-to-video sequels in which the central character is Dr. Dolittle's daughter Maya, played by Kyla Pratt. Pratt, along with Norm Macdonald, the voice of family dog Lucky, are the only actors to appear in all five movies. Oddly enough, Lucky's appearances in each of the sequels are all uncredited.

(For the 1967 film starring Rex Harrison, see Doctor Dolittle and for the 2020 film with Robert Downey Jr., see Dolittle.)

This film series provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Dr. Dolittle tricks his wife, Lisa, into thinking he's bought her a fancy new sports car in order to make a point about her supposedly not caring about money. After admitting that, "no, actually, the van's around the corner," he does a breathless, girlish imitation of her excited "Oh, John, you didn't, you didn't!" Lisa tells him "That's not funny," but her facial expression and barely restrained laughter clearly indicate that she knows he got her good, even if she doesn't want to admit it out loud.
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Wild animals are casually comfortable around Dolittle.
  • An Aesop: "It's okay to be weird". John learns it in the first film, and then in the sequels his daughters do after they develop the gift of talking to animals.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: A pigeon with a female voice has the familiar feather coloration — which is a trait of male pigeons.
  • Animal Stereotypes: The animals' personalities are traditional, such as the chameleon who who thinks he can blend with anything, the racoon that likes stealing from trash, and the dog that obbessively plays fetch. This is the case unless something else is required for the plot.
  • Animal Talk: At least they talk to Dolittle, as well as to each other for the most part, regardless of species. Oddly enough, there is one orangutan that does not understand Dolittle - because it is from a Mexican zoo and thus only speaks Spanish.
  • Artifact Title: The direct-to-video sequels are this, since John does not appear and the movies star his youngest daughter Maya, who is a teenager and not yet a doctor. In fact, the fifth movie is about how she thinks she doesn't need to go through the trouble of becoming a licensed vet to help animals due to her ability. She ultimately changes her mind, but we only see her begin college, not earn her DVM.
  • Ascended Extra: Maya and Lucky are the main protagonists of the third, fourth, and fifth films. Charisse had a fairly small part in the first film but is given more focus in the second while Maya, who was the central child in the first film, is Demoted to Extra.
  • Ass Shove: Lucky's anus swallows a thermometer during a veterinarian's examination. It has to be "retrieved manually".
  • Babies Ever After: In Dr. Dolittle 2 Dolittle intends for this to happen with Archie and Ava so as to try and save the forest and the endangered Pacific Western bear species. Eventually it works and in the final scene, Archie and Ava have two cubs.
  • Berserk Button: In Dr. Dolittle 2, Archie has two, and both are pushed by Dolittle in the same scene. He doesn't like being called a coward (even when he's acting like one), and he doesn't like being poked. When Dolittle angrily keeps poking him, Archie snaps and pushes him off a small cliff.
  • Big "WHAT?!": In Dr. Dolittle 2, the man on the phone early on does an indignant one after John calls him a punk.
  • Bowdlerize Depending on the network airing the movie, the line "Throw the damn ball!" might have its expletive removed, and Dolittle's question about dogs sniffing each other may also be trimmed. When the film on Disney Channel for a one-time engagement in November 2005, it was left largely untouched.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: The guinea pig:
    "You scared the crap out of me! See? There it is."
    • Though it's possible Rodney could have just been taking advantage of the opportunity to make a pun. Anyone who has ever owned a guinea pig will tell you that these creatures poop a lot.
  • Captivity Harmonica: In Dr. Dolittle 2, Archie plays one during one of the scenes he is in jail.
  • Cat Up a Tree: In Dr Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts, Maya Dolittle rescues an old lady's cat, but the cat refuses to leave the tree until the old lady stops giving him baths.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Dogs. The last animal Dolittle spoke to as a boy was his pet dog. The first animal that speaks to him as an adult is a dog that soon becomes his pet.
    • In Dr. Dolittle 2, the beehive on the log up on the cliff. Ava tells Archie that bears have died trying to reach it. Archie decides then and there to win Ava over by trying to get the hive. He does it a few scene later, to the shock of Ava and Dolittle, almost falling off when the log starts to come loose under his weight and getting stung by bees, but it works.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rodney the guinea pig is never mentioned again after the first movie. Given that Guinea pigs have short lifespans, he likely died.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Calloway in the first film will send his fellow doctor to the nuthouse if it leads to a bigger payoff from selling the practice
    • Potter in the second film will resort to legal tricks, courtroom theater and even kidnapping to get his way.
  • Dead Man Walking: As a dog is being led away to be put down at the pound that Lucky's taken to, one of the dogs comments "dead dog walking."
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Subverted with Charisse’s boyfriend, Eric. Although Dolittle is openly rude to him, Eric doesn’t let it bother him.
  • The Door Slams You: At the Calnet meeting, Mark mocks Gene behind his back, and Gene opens a door into Mark's face, breaking his nose.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Dolittle's gift allows him and his family to become extremely wealthy over time. By the fifth and final film, the family resides in a lavish mansion - a huge step-up from the condo they have in the first film.
  • Egg McGuffin: The original Dr. Dolittle opens with Maya getting a supposed swan egg which is the subject of discussion throughout the film. At the end of the film, it hatches and turns out to be a baby alligator. It briefly tries to latch on to both the dog Lucky and the guinea pig Rodney as its "mama."
  • Even the Dog Is Ashamed: Dolittle's dog does not tolerate Dolittle's son's failure at hot-or-cold.
  • Explosive Breeder: Rodney the guinea pig claims to be one, telling Dr. Dolittle over the phone that he's cute, he's furry and he makes five hundred babies a year.
  • Foreshadowing: In Dr. Dolittle 2, a couple of hints are dropped that Charisse has inherited Dolittle's ability to talk to animals before its reveal late in the film, such as the scene where Charisse tells him he's the one who talks to the animals, not her, and goes off on a bit of rant about it, and later when she tells Maya that if Papito could understand her, she'd tell him "how sick [she] is of all these stupid animals, and Papito replies "Ooh, that really hurt."
  • Friend to All Living Things: Dr. Dolittle starts off as someone who dislikes all animals on principle. Growing into a doctor/therapist/friend for all of the animals he can speak with again is part of his character development.
  • Gassy Scare: One of a pair of rats the titular doctor had been heckled by in previous scenes appears to be dying of severe stomach pains, resulting an extended scene of Dolittle trying to treat the rat at the hospital, and then performing CPR when the rat passes out on the examination table. Dolittle's attempt at chest compressions pushes out a fart, and the rat is fine and back to heckling him again with his buddy the next day.
  • Good Feels Good: In the first movie, after accepting that he really is hearing animals talking, Dr. Dolittle spends the evening helping a lot of dogs with a lot of medical issues, for free because they obviously can't pay him (being animals). The next day, he tells one of his partners at his practice that it was a terrific experience, because he felt like he was making a difference in people's lives.
  • Get Out!: In Dr. Dolittle 2, after Archie gets the hive for Ava and wins her over from Sonny, Ava, sick of Sonny's disrespect towards her and Archie, tells him to take a hike, and he never appears again after that.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: The orangutan in the first film, of whom Dr. Dolittle needs to prove that it can speak. It does end up speaking... Spanish.
  • Heartbreak and Ice Cream: After Ava goes off with Sonny despite clearly liking Archie more, citing that she needs more than just a "city bear", Archie breaks into a store and raids the freezer for ice cream, realizing while eating Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia that he's in love with Ava.
  • Heel Realization: Dr. Dolittle's father has this when he sees his son operating on a tiger and realizing that he was wrong for treating his son's gift like it was evil. Telling Mrs. Dolittle that no, her husband is not crazy. He 'can' talk to animals.
  • Hollywood Chameleon: Subverted in Dr. Dolittle 2, with Papito the chameleon, who thinks he has the ability to blend completely into the background, but never can. At the end, Charisse paints a room completely green as a surprise for Papito, and it looks like he finally got his dream.
  • I Am Not Weasel
    Dr. Dolittle: I think we should get rid of Maya's little rat thing.
    Mrs. Dolittle: He's a guinea pig. I don't know why you let him get to you.
  • Ignoring by Singing: Dr. Dolittle is annoyed by the guinea pig Rodney's constant chatter during a car trip, telling him that if he says one more word, then he's going to leave him outside with the squirrels and see how much talking he does then. Rodney tells him that's fine, that he'll sing, and starts singing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," loud and off-key. Dr. Dolittle responds in turn by blasting the song "Rock Steady" on the car radio and singing along with it.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: When Dr. Dolittle is in the Vet's waiting room, he overhears a woman screaming at her dog to lie down. The dog doesn't and the woman tells Dr. Dolittle that her dog is deaf. The dog immediately tells Dr. Dolittle, "I'm not deaf. I just can't stand listening to her."
  • Insult Misfire: In the first movie:
    Pigeon, helping to defend Dolittle's operation against the police: Pigs go home. Pigs go home.
    A Pig, walking away in confusion: Huh?
    Pigeon: No, not you... the police.
  • Ironic Echo: In Dr. Dolittle 2 Dolittle tries to get an endangered bear to mate in order to save a forest. The Corrupt Corporate Executive tells him that won't happen so he makes an offer noting this way he can save face, won't have to admit he was wrong, and won't look like a fool. When Dolittle gets the animals to unite against him, he proposes they set up a meeting as it's the only way to save face, he won't have to admit he was wrong, and he'll get out of the situation without looking like an idiot.
  • Is That a Threat?: Dr. Dolittle 2:
    Dr. Dolittle: You're an endangered species!
    Archie: Is that a threat, buddy?
  • I've Heard of That — What Is It?: As Maya's egg hatches at the end of the original film, Lucky comments "A swan egg, this is gonna be great." He then says that he has one question: "What is a swan?"
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Averted. After Gene punches Mark in the face and knocks him out, Gene holds his hand in pain from the impact.
  • Jerkass: Mark Weller and Blaine Hammersmith in the first film. Mark Weller, though somewhat good-intentioned is very greedy while Blaine is Dolittle's old rival from their medical school days.
    • In Dr. Dolittle 2, Sonny. He's disrespectful towards Ava and contemptuous of Archie, calling him "circus boy" and even hoping at one point while Archie is trying to get the beehive for Ava that Archie falls to his death. When Archie succeeds in getting the hive, Sonny angrily orders Ava to come with him, but Ava tells him to take a hike.
    • Also in Dr. Dolittle 2, Potter and Riley, the Corrupt Corporate Executive and The Dragon who want to level the forest.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dr. Dolittle. He at first hates animals after he stops talking to them as a child and at times doesn't take Charisse and Maya seriously, but especially Maya, who wants him to like her as a person. In the second film, this continues when he becomes a bit of an Overprotective Dad to Charisse and snaps at Archie out of frustration at his refusal to cooperate. He still loves his family, though, warms up to animals after a while when he embraces the fact that he can talk to them, convinces the tiger not to commit suicide, is willing to save a rat (who had been a jerkass to him throughout the movie) from what he thinks is death (it's just gas), tries to save an entire forest from being leveled by a logging company, and the reason he snaps at Archie is not only because he won't cooperate, but because Lisa and Charisse are mad at him, he's being pestered by Charisse's annoying boyfriend, Eric, and because if Archie doesn't cooperate, the entire population of the forest won't have anywhere to live, and when it looks like the animals seem to have giving up trying to save the forest, he rallies them to carry on.
  • Jump, I'll Catch You!: One of the rats screams this to the Tiger who contemplates jumping to his death.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: In Dr. Dolittle 2, when Archie is trying to get the beehive, the bees escape from it and try and attack Riley, who, up until this point, has been gleefully watching the scene through his binoculars and hoping out loud that the log breaks under Archie's weight. Riley sees the bees coming towards him, panics and runs for it. It also forms a Brick Joke when Potter locks him out of the building when the animals close in, and the bees reappear.
  • Killed Offscreen: Rodney in the sequel, it's implied he was crushed by being sat on.note 
  • Love Epiphany: Archie realises he's in love with Ava while eating Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.
  • Man Hug: Dolittle and Archie have one at the end of Dr. Dolittle 2. Dolittle manages to choke out that Archie is crushing his spine.
  • Medium Awareness: It's explicitly stated that the animals can hear the movie's translation when an owl tells Dr. Dolittle "You're the one who can hear us, aren't you?" instead of the predictable "You're the one who understands us, aren't you?".
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Dolittle is introduced as a boy talking to his pet dog.
  • Mistaken for Insane: Dr. Dolittle comes across two rats, and one of them appears to be going into cardiac arrest. He takes them inside his workplace and gives the seemingly-dying rat CPR, much to the disgust of his coworkers and wife. Then the rat breaks wind, revealing that he just had gas. Dr. Dolittle's coworkers promptly have him sent to an insane asylum.
  • Motor Mouth: Rodney the guinea pig will not stop talking, and Dr. Dolittle is the only one who has to listen to him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Archer realized his mistake thinking his son's Animal Talk is a disability, since he was afraid it would ruin his life (like sniffing at his principal's butt), and for sending his dog away. Now he sees it as a gift.
  • Name One: When the good doctor tries to convince a suicidal tiger that there are plenty of tigers in pop culture.
    Tiger: Okay, name one.
    Dolittle: ...
    Lucky: How 'bout Tony?
    Dolittle: Tony the cereal tiger?
    Lucky: What? I didn't hear you come up with anything.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted.
    • In the first film, the pigeons defecate on Mark Weller and Calloway at the end, much to their disgust.
    • In Dr. Dolittle 2, not only does Archie have to use the bathroom, he's trapped in there with John, who can't keep guard outside and who has to breathe through a barely open window while Archie takes a massive dump in the toilet next to him. It's so bad that by the time he gets out of there, Potter and Riley recoil from the stink. He even wakes up a dog he passes on his way out thanks to it.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Rodney the guinea pig ponders how he came to that name, since he's not a pig, and neither from Africa nor an Italian "guinea".
  • Not This One, That One: There's this exchange between John and Lisa:
    Dr. Dolittle: Lisa, the more money you have, the more time you can spend with your family. That's the way it boils down. that's true. And in the meantime, you're just gonna have to make do and be happy with this beautiful, fancy sports car you always wanted. Right here, beautiful.
    Lisa Dolittle: Oh, my God, John, you didn't!
    Dr. Dolittle: No, I didn't. The van's around the corner. But I saw how fluttered you got, so don't tell me you don't care about money. (starts mocking) "Oh, John, you didn't. You didn't."
  • Oh, Crap!: Archer, when he learns from Maya that her dad is getting her a dog. We learn it's because he's afraid that his son will regain his ability to talk to animals.
  • Overprotective Dad: In Dr. Dolittle 2, Dolittle becomes a bit of one to Charisse when he finds out she has a boyfriend, namely a pizza boy called Eric.
  • Potty Emergency:
    • In the original film, Charisse has to go the bathroom, but Dr. Dolittle doesn't want her to go in because there's ducks and a goat in there. He tells her she's drinking too many liquids; she insists she really has to go, and he manages to hide the ducks and get the goat out.
    • Played with. In Dr. Dolittle 2, Archie suddenly gets one of these in a bathroom cubicle after an episode of Heartbreak and Ice Cream. A blessing for him, because he's able to use the toilet immediately, but definitely an emergency for John, who's in the cubicle with Archie to prevent anyone from seeing him, and he can't keep anyone from coming in because someone might see him and because Riley is outside. He has to breathe through a small gap in the window next to the toilet as Archie uses it.
  • Pounds Are Animal Prisons: The pound that Lucky's taken to, complete with Death Row tropes when a dog is taken to be put down.
  • Product Placement: At one point while driving in the original film, Dr. Dolittle drinks from a highly visible Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup.
  • Pun: One of the songs on the film's soundtrack is an R&B love ballad called "Do Little Things," but likely only written and titled that way to make a pun on "Dolittle."
  • Race Lift: The white Dr. Dolittle of the original book series is now black... which, given some of the racist implications of the book can be seen as a Take That! by the filmmakers.
  • Refusal of the Call: When the stray dog Dr. Dolittle almost runs over calls him a "bonehead," he thinks he's losing his mind. Then, when his daughter's guinea pig Rodney starts talking to him, his reaction to abandon both him and his cage on the side of the road and drive away. This is thwarted when Rodney appeals to his better nature as a doctor, causing him to come back for him.
  • Replacement Goldfish: It's implied that Papito, the Mexican chameleon Maya gets from Dolittle is one for Rodney. Both talk an awful lot and are very similar characters in that they provide comic relief and sometimes pop up at inopportune moments.
  • Running Over the Plot: The title character reawakens his ability to Speaks Fluent Animal after hitting a dog with his car, an ability he had suppressed and forgotten since childhood. The dog, who would be later adopted by the doctor, runs off no worse for the wear, but not before yelling at Dolittle to watch where he was going. This incident would lead to the rest of the movie with Dr. Dolittle finding himself dealing with animals coming to him for medical issues once it gets out he can understand them.
  • Save the Jerk: Downplayed. Two rude rats have been heckling John, when one of them appears to go into cardiac arrest. John gives him CPR (though as it turns out, he just had gas and was in no real danger). By the next day, neither one of them are the least bit grateful for it.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: In Dr. Dolittle 2, this happens to Archie when he's trying to get the beehive for Ava. The bees then briefly go over to Dolittle, and after that, they attack Riley. Twice, it happens again later too.
  • Scenery Porn: Dr. Dolittle 2 starts this way with shots of San Francisco, including one looking up at the Golden Gate Bridge as if travelling along it, and another of part of the city skyline during sunset as the title appears. Some shots of the forest, including the final shot, also look like this.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Subverted. In Dr. Dolittle 2, Charisse almost pulls one of these when Dolittle tells her, Lisa and Maya that Archie thinks he can win Ava, but they are stuck in the forest for longer as a result. Out of frustration, she starts walking off and Dolittle goes after her. She doesn't get far, and in the ensuing conversation, reveals she just wants to go home.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When the doctor and Lucky the dog are trying to stop a tiger from leaping to his death, they note all of the great tigers. When asked to name one Lucky comes up with Tony the Tiger, while Dolittle points out how Rocky beat up Mr. T after hearing "Eye of the Tiger".
    • "Yeah, baby!"
    • "Hasta la vista, baby!"
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Dr. Dolittle.
    • In Dr. Dolittle 2, Charisse too. She kept quiet about it because she thought it would make her look like a freak. And Maya in the following sequels.
  • Stylistic Suck: Archie's first time singing Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is so bad that not only do the animals watching leave mid-performance, even he acknowledges how bad it is.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: In the original film, the tiger Jake is suffering from chronic headaches, nausea, and double vision. He heads to the top of a tall tower, prepared to end it all, but Dr. Dolittle is summoned to try to talk him down from it. At first it doesn't go so well, as he comes up empty when the tiger asks him to name any famous tigers and the dog Lucky's suggestion of "Tony the cereal tiger" (of Frosted Flakes fame) is decidedly unhelpful. Then he recalls the song "Eye of the Tiger" and how it inspired Rocky III, but his awful off-key rendition of the song causes Jake to say that he's jumping. Finally, he says it simply that he's a doctor and he might be able to help and if not, the tiger can eat both him and Lucky, and this finally convinces Jake.
    Lucky: Or just him.
    Jake: Alright. I just hope you're a better doctor than you are a singer.
  • Toilet Humor:
    • In the original film, Charisse wants to go the bathroom, but her father Dr. Dolittle stops her because there are ducks and a goat in the bathroom. He tells her that she's drinking too many liquids and needs to go back to bed, but she insists she has to go. He manages to hide the ducks in the bathroom and somehow manages to get off without her seeing any of what is going on, even though the house is filled with animals.
    • In the same film, Maya sneaks her guinea pig Rodney into the hospital during the big meeting with Calnet where the merger is supposed to be signed. He sneaks off into a bathroom and ends up sniffing around the rim of a toilet, only for a woman that Dr. Dolittle treated earlier in the film for a shellfish allergy to come in and sit down, trying to sneak another snack. She sits down on him and realizing this and hearing his squeaks, they scream at each other. She flushes the toilet and leaves, and he shouts "Somebody get the license plate number! I have just been violated!"
  • Toilet Paper Trail: Lucky the dog leaves the bathroom in this manner.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ms. Parkis, the woman who is deathly allergic to shellfish and yet won't stop eating it. She even thinks that it doesn't count as shellfish if she removes the fish from its shell before eating it. After the third time this has happened, note  Dr. Dolittle asks her if she has a death wish.
  • Translation Convention: Since the movie is shown from Dr. Dolitte's perspective, the animals speak English (except for one orangutan, who speaks Spanish).
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The two rats are explicitly not grateful to the good doctor after he saves one of them.
    Rat: You want gratitude? Get a hamster!
  • Wham Line:
    • "Why don't you watch where you're going next time, you bonehead!" from the first film. This is the first time Dolittle has understood something an animal has said since his childhood.
    • In Dr. Dolittle 2, "Everybody is meant to be loved." The reason for it? Archie just said something similar and the Wham Line was spoken by Charisse. Dolittle then suddenly realizes she has inherited his ability to talk to animals because she understood what Archie said.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Lucky calls Dolittle out for ignoring his gift, blaming the animals for ruining his life and placing him in the asylum, and refusing to help Jake.
    Lucky: You're a doctor who can talk to animals, and that is who you are!
    Dolittle: No that is not who I am!
    Lucky: You're lying to yourself!
    Dolittle: I said get out!
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Happens to Archie in the second film. Archie wins over Ava, Ava tells Sonny to beat it, but while Archie is trying to count to one hundred so he can chase after Ava, he is shot by a tranquilizer dart.
  • You Can Talk?: Dolittle and Rodney's reaction when they discover that the each of them can understand what the other is saying is surprise.
  • You Need a Breath Mint:
    (Lucky barks next to Rodney.)
    Rodney: You know, a Tic-Tac wouldn't kill ya.


Video Example(s):


He Just Had Gas

Dr. Dolittle is operating on a rat, to the shock of his colleagues and wife. He thinks it could be a serious situation, maybe even cardiac arrest, but it turns out that the rat just had gas.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / GassyScare

Media sources: