Dolittle
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent
Duration: 106 mins
Class: U
KRS Releasing Ltd
Film not reviewed 

In his first post-Marvel Universe project, Robert Downey Jr takes on one of literature’s most enduring characters in a vivid reimagining of the classic tale of the man who could talk to animals in Dolittle.

After losing his wife Lily seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr John Dolittle, famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company.

But when the young queen falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure; regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures.

When putting Dolittle together, producers Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum reached out to Team Downey – the production company run by Robert and Susan Downey, the actor-producer’s wife and long-time collaborator. “Joe Roth came to us with the version of the script that director Stephen Gaghan had written,” Susan Downey says.

“They said that Robert was the person he had in mind when he wrote it. Robert and I read it, and we thought that it was so much fun. Who doesn’t want to be able to think they can talk to their animals? At its core, Steve had created this epic adventure that we felt would be good for all audiences and families.”

This is the most magical film we’ve ever done, and that’s saying something- Robert Downey Jr

“Robert asked, ‘What decisions have been made on this movie already?’” says Gaghan.  “I could say to him, ‘There’s only been one decision, and that’s why we’re here. We want you to be this guy, and everything else is wide open.’ He’s a creative force who becomes a partner and you make the movie together. It was a huge decision, but the right one.”

“This is the most magical film we’ve ever done, and that’s saying something,” adds Downey Jr “It’s always a miracle to me when things that have so many moving parts come together and equal something entertaining. As people are seeing it, they’re saying they’re moved by it and they’re entertained. My long-suffering missus said it does have that appeal from four to 94. So, it’s a mission accomplished with Team Downey.

“My dad will like the subversive humour,” Downey continues. “For this generation of kids, sometimes things are rendered to the point of being shockingly photorealistic, or they’re almost two-dimensional in how animated they are. This reminds me more of the kind of movies we had when we were growing up – like Fantasia and Mary Poppins – where there was a mix of both. I feel like Dolittle nails the visual flavour.”

Doctor Dolittle is a brilliant curmudgeon; one who has mastered almost all animal languages and a genius who most people think is insane. He has suffered a devastating loss and, having grown weary of humanity, he has dedicated his life to understanding the secret world of all other creatures. 

“I thought about the character as someone who has become a hermit and isolated himself due to trauma or emotional disappointment,” says the actor. “He’s taken it upon himself to help animals only, but he’s really given up on humanity. He secreted himself to this estate that was gifted to him by the queen.”

Dolittle is a larger-than-life character in creator Hugh Lofting’s novels, yet the reader isn’t afforded the luxury of exploring the veterinarian’s flaws. Downey Jr’s Dolittle is far more complex. “Robert wanted to craft an authentic character who was quirky and vulnerable,” Kirschenbaum says. “Out of that, a heroism arose.”

Downey was also thinking as a producer, beyond his own character. “He was focused on how we could take this movie and expand the audience,” Kirschenbaum says. “Robert was constantly coming up with ideas and characters. He is much like Dolittle himself, wrapping his arms around everybody around him. In front of the camera and behind it, he is incredibly inclusive and generous!”

Robert Downey Jr is joined by an eclectic cast including Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Harry Collett, Jim Broadbent and Jessie Buckley with stellar support from Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Marion Cotillard among the voice cast giving life to the members of Dolittle’s menagerie.

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