Doctor Dolittle (1967) Richard Fleischer

Production Budget: $18 million

Gross: $9 million

Subsequent earnings: $6 million

I apologize that this review will probably not be as elaborate or go over all the bases as I usually do.  I spent hours on research and drafting things and through a series of unfortunate events it all got f*cked.  Rewriting this review is like telling a long drawn out story to a group of friends that culminates in a punch line and at the end another friend walks up and says “Hey guys, what are you guys talking about?  Oh come on, you gotta tell me…”  After suppressing a quick “Shut the f*ck up Donnie!” you go through a quick Cliffs Notes version just to satisfy his curiosity.  So I apologize for being curt and for stretching that metaphor to breaking point.

So anyway, 20th Century Fox wanted to capitalize on the success of The Sound of Music.  They wanted to make three big budget musicals, among them being Dolittle, Star! and Hello Dolly!  Doctor Dolittle was based on a series of childrens books starting in the 1920’s.  The plot is about John Dolittle, who is the world’s greatest veterinarian because he speaks to the animals.  He is on a quest for a mythical pink sea snail.

The production was obviously plagued by problems. They signed Rex Harrison at the title character and by all accounts he was a major a**hole on set.  The script got bounced around to about four different writers and with delays on scripting and his dislike of the musical numbers Harrison tried walking off the project.  Fox hired Christopher Plummer to replace him and drafted a few new songs for the movie.  Harrison eventually returned and Fox had to buy out Plummer’s contract for the movie.  There were difficulties shooting on the exotic locations but the main problem was filming with the animals.  Asking dozens of animals to behave while the actors do day long sessions is silly to say the least and it slowed the production down.  What should have been a $6 million dollar pic went to $9 million and ballooned to $18 million.

The movie was savaged by critics but that didn’t stop Fox from trying to salvage it.  Fox sent out a flood of Dolittle merch and even bought their way into the Best Picture category for the Oscars.  As if you needed any more reason to think the Oscars are bullsh*t…Anyway the media blitz failed and the movie bombed big time.  Fox was almost bankrupted and could only release one film in the year of 1970 due to budgetary constraints.  Rex Harrison’s career was also essentially over.

I should make an admission before I begin.  If I had to pick out a least favorite genre, I would probably have to go with the musical genre.  Don’t get me wrong I like some musicals like Blues Brothers, Singing in the Rain, Chicago, Dancer in the Dark to name a few.  It’s just harder for me to get into some big elaborate super energetic musical.  Probably my big movie sacrilege I am committing but I’ll admit I don’t even really go into West Side Story: probably the most famous musical of all time.  I say this just so you know where I am coming from on musicals.  Maybe it could be said I couldn’t give this movie a fair shake and you love this movie and I just don’t get it.  Maybe.  But I like to think my reasons for disliking it are at least well reasoned.

Leonard Maltin once said “The movie has one merit: If you have unruly children, it may put them to sleep.” If it is one thing I hate this movie for doing it is for making me agree with Leonard Maltin.  Ugh, it tastes like vomit in my mouth.  But he does make a small bit of sense.  When I think of what a Doctor Dolittle movie should be, it should be like all the best elements of a zoo.  You should be seeing horses doing stunts, lions stalking around, monkeys flinging poo at bad guys, you get the idea.  Kiddies should be excited at seeing exotic animals doing cool things.  You should not be seeing a bunch of farm animals just chillin’ and eating oats while the actors singing around them.  That is just dull.

It doesn’t help that this movie’s plot kind of meanders.  The plot synopsis gives the impression there is a main plot with the sea snail but not really.  There is no main antagonist and the plot is more episodic in nature.  You almost picture a Dolittle television show with titles like; Dolittle goes to the Circus, Dolittle on Trial, Dolittle Goes Sailing, Dolittle goes Native, etc.  That may work for a shorter film, but when we are pushing two and a half hours, I want a more linear plot.  I just kept wondering when the movie was going to get on track.

The songs are, in my opinion, mostly unmemorable.  There are probably three songs that are good but more that are downright bad.  And this may be the point where you say “You just don’t get it” but I find Rex Harrison’s half singing half talking performances more annoying than endearing.  You’re right; I just don’t get it.

I didn’t hate this movie, I just feel it is kinda dull.  They had the pieces in place to make a fun little kiddie movie but they missed the mark.  The story needed to be re-written and they need to add about three more good musical numbers (in addition to scrapping about five bad ones).  It’s not bad, but it’s no misunderstood gem either.


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