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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

Dr. John Dolittle was quite the English celebrity at one time. He was known far and wide as the man who loved animals so much that he learned to speak their language. In fact, Dolittle became such a favorite of the Queen of England that she granted him his own estate and a vast, surrounding sanctuary full of animals.

Gorillas, elephants, polar bears, peacocks, rodents and birds of every shape and size: You name it, they flocked to and populated Dolittle’s walled-away refuge. Many humans showed up on his doorstep as well to simply get his wise and insightful help with their beasty problems. In fact, Dolittle was as much an animal psychologist as he was a veterianarian and medical doctor.

Dr. Dolittle was indeed happy and loved.

But then his beloved wife, Lily, a dynamic adventurer herself, died while off on a sea journey. And in the moment he learned of her passing, everything changed in the good man’s life.

Dolittle blamed himself for not trying to keep Lily from the dangerous journey. He lamented not being able to help the one person who meant more to him than anyone or anything else in the world. And so he refused visitors from that point on—he stopped seeing or speaking with humans altogether—and became a forgotten hermit hidden away in a forgotten manor.

It’s only when young Lady Rose arrives from Buckingham Palace that the outside world once again peeps in on the now scruffy and heavily bearded doc. The realm’s young queen is direly ill. (Some even suspect foul play.) And with her last lucid breath, the Queen sends Lady Rose to fetch the good Dr. Dolittle. He’s the only man trusted enough to give Her Majesty the lifesaving aid she so desperately needs.

It takes quite a bit of coaxing from Dolittle’s most trusted confidant—the perky parrot, Polly—and several other animal friends to pry the doctor away from his isolation. But finally Dolittle and a large entourage of furry and feathered friends make their way to the palace.

Tagging along with the mobile menagerie is another new friend: Tommy Stubbins, an unsually sensitive boy who had been seeking Dolittle’s help for a wounded squirrel. Little does Stubbins know the animal-talking adventure he’s about to be swept into.

When Dolittle and his crew finally arrive at the royal residence, what they find there is dire indeed. The Queen has been poisoned with the essense of a very rare and exotic flower. And there’s only one way to cure her: They must find the fruit of the mystical Eden Tree, the very thing that Lily was seeking when she met her demise.

This will indeed be the hardest journey that Dr. Dolittle has ever taken.

Positive Elements

Dr. Dolittle therapeutically helps animals with various issues, including mental issues and physical wounds. He helps a gorilla named Chee-Chee overcome his constant fear of nearly everything, for instance. He also works hard to save Stubbins’ squirrel from a buckshot wound.

The film also gently warns against isolation in the name of self-protection. Dr. Dolittle’s grief is understandable; but his ongoing determination to avoid human friendship years after his wife’s death is shown to be an unhealthy response to grief. Eventually, the film communicates this contrasting message: “It’s only by helping others that we can truly help ourselves.” And we see that philosophy demonstrated throughout, in big ways and small, as various characters risk everything to help Dolittle in his quest to save the queen.

Dolittle also speaks of his love for his wife Lily and talks of the transforming power of that love. Lily’s father, a kingdom ruler who hates Dolittle, speaks of the power of love, too. “Irony, is me wanting to kill you with every fiber of my being, but loving my daughter more,” the man says before lending Dolittle his aid.

Young viewers might find encouragement from the fact that even large and seemingly ferocious creatures can be frightened sometimes, too.

Spiritual Elements

We see Dolittle pray at a small altar featuring a burning candle and pictures of his deceased wife. It’s never fully explained or fleshed out, but the film perhaps seems to suggest that the Eden Tree fruit’s restorative powers stem from the fact that it was one of the original trees in the Garden of Eden.

A fly that barely misses being squashed by a large object jumps up and declares, “I am the chosen one!”—right before being gobbled up by a passing bird. When an animal is injured, someone comes to his aid and cries out, “Step away from the light,” while trying to revive him.

Sexual Content

Lady Rose gives Stubbins a kiss on the cheek. A jealous dragonfly complains about a lost love choosing another suitor over him. “What’s a scorpion got that I don’t, besides a massive stinger?” he grumbles.

Violent Content

Stubbins hails from a family of hunters; but the tenderhearted lad works to find ways not to kill the animals he’s forced to hunt. But while trying to avoid shooting a bird, he accidentally hits a squirrel with his shotgun pellets. He takes the wounded animal to Dr. Dolittle and the doctor performs a bloodless surgery on the small creature. (The only indication of a wound being wet and somewhat darkened fur.)

People wave large sharp swords and point guns at others. A British battleship is sent to make sure Dolittle never returns from his sea trip. That craft fires cannons on Dolittle’s ship a few times in mulitple scenes. Sometimes the resulting damage is light; in another scene, though, the ship doesn’t fare well at all, with explosions prompting occupants to flee as it’s blow to smithereens.

Other moments of mild peril include: Stubbins leaping from a high bridge and somehow swinging down to the ship’s deck via its sails and rigging. Elsewhere, Dolittle gets chained up in a prison cell with an angry tiger that wants to gobble him up. The two jump and parry around the room. A cave full of bats swarm all around a sitting man. And on a much smaller scale, Dolittle and Chee-Chee spar in a bit of boxing and Dolittle gets flattened. The pair also plays a game of chess with tiny living mouse chessmen who thump each other with sticks when moved into an attack.

A dragon blows fire and knocks men around in a cave. The creature picks up a soldier and seemingly incinerates him (off-camera).

Crude or Profane Language

One use of “d–n” and one exclamation of “oh my god!” We also hear single uses of “heck,” “shut up,” “shoot,” “later, suckers!” and the mild British oath “crikey.”

There’s also a subtle crude reference made when someone growls out the unfinished phrase, “I’ll rip you a new …” And after being hit in the crotch, a tiger groans and writhes on the floor, complaining he’s been hit in “Barry’s berries.”

Two whales wave their flippers in the direction of a nearby human, and one quips to the other, “I can’t believe you’re flipping him off!”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Dolittle uses a sleeping gas to knock out a wounded squirrel before surgery. Later the animals use the same gas on Dolittle himself. The juice of a magical fruit is used to heal someone.

Other Negative Elements

We hear some odd references to animal family dysfunction. There’s a tiger who speaks of his mother’s tendency to make him feel inadequate, an ostrich who declares that he should have been an omelet instead of being born, and a polar bear who states that his father went out for a “pack of seals” and never returned. These bits are injected for nothing more than a cheap giggle, and they’re jokes that kids almost certainly won’t get.

There are also some toilet-humor-focused animal gags in the mix, too, generally centering on gas and poo. Dolittle helps a suffering dragon, for instance, by reaching in and removing pieces of armor and other detritus from the creature’s backside (the actual removal is just out of the camera’s view and accompanied by gusts of dragon gas). The heroes have no qualms about stealing something to help with their travels (though, they do pay a price for their actions).


After spending more than a decade in the role of Marvel’s iconic Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. is shedding his suit of high-tech armor. And he’s starting the next phase of his acting career by slipping into the role of a certain oddball Victorian doc created by British author Hugh Lofting. The result is a rollicking talking-animal adventure featuring a quirky animal-talking guy. This is the sort of pic that kids will forgive and enjoy, and adults will cruise through and pretty quickly forget.

OK, the story doesn’t always add up. The jokes and banter can feel a bit molting and eww-worthy at times. The kid lessons are a little flighty. A tiny bit of profanity turns up. And outside of Dolittle himself, the human and critter characters can sometimes seem a tad underwritten.

But more important than all that monkey business, is the fact that Dolittle is colorful, light and broadly jovial. It ends up being, for the most part, pretty doggone (or rather, parrot-, polar bear– and gorilla-gone) family friendly.

And that, at least, is worth a cheery honk, growl and squeak.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.