Ossus Library Index Comedy Index


Directed by Betty Thomas (1998, 20th Century Fox)
Starring Eddie Murphy, Oliver Platt, Norm Macdonald, and Chris Rock

A man is overwhelmed by animals after he discovers that he can understand and speak to them.



3 stars

September 30th, 2000, on Video  

A cheerful comedy which had very few annoying moments, a rarity in this kind of over-the-top movie.  It was funny most of the time, though the humour lost some steam in the middle.

I can only handle Eddie Murphy some of the time, but here he did a wonderful job.  He played his part well, getting annoyed and frustrated as things built to the inevitable climax.  We felt happy for him when he first learned to speak with animals, and couldn't figure out why he wouldn't want to.  Then, when his apartment gets filled with ailing animals, including some sheep, a pig, and birds of all sorts, we begin to understand why, and we feel sad for his predicament.  But in order to get them out of his apartment, he helps them out.  Then he helps a horse, and a tiger, and it turns into a full-time job!  Just because he can't let down anybody, human or animal. And so we are happy again!

For his efforts, he is thrown in a mental hospital, and presided over by the doctor who finished last in Dolittle's class, while Dolittle himself finished first.  And we get to feel sad for him again. All this playing with our emotions!

But it is his daughter who really saves him.  She does all sorts of strange experiments, especially with animals.  Her current one is incubation of a "swan" egg that she found (it turns out to be a lot more scaly than a swan, and makes for one of the funniest lines in the movie near the end, when Rodney the guinea pig screams "Jurassic Park!").  She likes it that he can speak to animals, because that makes him just as strange as she is!

Dr. Dolittle is a physician for humans, not animals.  His private firm (owned together with two other people) is being bought out by a much larger firm.  His two co-owners are of opposite extremes.  One desperately wants the money, and the other thinks patient care will be compromised by the buy-out.  They are both distraught when Dolittle starts talking to animals.  So meetings are scheduled, and missed, until the big press conference. Dolittle has finally checked himself out of the mental hospital, blackmailing the doctor there (his cat knows some of his less than acceptable habits), and convinces people that he is cured.

Until his daughter tells him that she is happy he's strange, on the night of the big press conference.  So he goes to the circus, to kidnap the tiger who has pain in his head (from a blood clot?), and performs a terrific operation to cure him.  He realizes that he doesn't want the buy-out, because he enjoys dealing personally with patients.

The movie would have been much less funny without its main comic characters, Rodney the guinea pig, and Lucky the dog.  Lucky is the one who gets him back into talking with animals: Dolittle could speak to
them when he was young, but lost the ability until he nearly hit the dog.  Dolittle feels guilty for this, so he adopts the dog from the pound before the dog is put away.  In the car, Lucky is nearly sick from looking at all the lines on the road!  The scene is so dog-like, and so funny.  He also steps on the electric window closer, and nearly crushes his throat -also very dog-like.  It was wonderfully funny.

Rodney gets all of the best lines, especially the one mentioned above.  When Dolittle's wife wants to make love in the log cabin, Rodney escapes his cage and gets to sing "do a little dance, make a little love...", which had me rolling in my seat!  I could sit here quoting one-liners forever, but suffice it to say that this character was the best.

I am happy to report that the whole movie went by without any ritual danger affecting the character.  Unlike Stuart Little, none of the animals were being chased, abused, or were generally unhappy.  I thought that was great.  We don't need danger to make an interesting story. There was a tiger with bad headaches, and a life-saving operation, but these were underplayed, to better effect.

All of the characters were one-note, to be sure.  And overplayed that single note very well.  The animals were funny, Dolittle was less funny than the animals, and the other characters were there simply for interplay.  Not too much substance, as if this movie needed that.  But lots of laughs, and a lot of fun.


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