Created by: Hugh Lofting
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Written by: Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, Doug Mand
Produced by: Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Susan Downey
Release date: 17 January 2020
Running time: 101 minutes
A physician who can talk to animals embarks on an adventure to find a legendary island with a young apprentice and a crew of strange pets.
In Victorian era Britain, Dr. John Dolittle is a Welsh veterinarian with the ability to communicate with animals. After his wife, Lily, dies at sea, Dolittle retreats from human society and only tends to animals. A boy, Tommy Stubbins, accidentally wounds Kevin the squirrel and is guided to Dolittle’s help by Polynesia, a macaw.
Queen Victoria summons Dolittle to cure her of a deadly sickness. He refuses until Poly persuades him that he must begin to reconnect with fellow humans. He finds the Queen has been poisoned by kind of nightshade added to her tea. The only cure is the magical fruit of Eden from the faraway land of Lily’s birth.
Poly, Betsy the giraffe, and Tutu the fox help Tommy escape from his home, and he joins Dolittle’s crew including Kevin, monkeys Elliot and Elsie, Chee-Chee the gorilla, Yoshi the polar bear, Plimpton the ostrich, Dab-Dab the duck, and Mini the sugar glider. They put to sail for the cure while evading Dolittle’s lifelong rival, Dr. Blair Müdfly. Dolittle leaves his lurcher Jip and a walking stick named Sticks behind to guard the Queen while he’s traveling. Dolittle’s boat is attacked by Müdfly and they escape by harnessing a whale who pulls the boat to safety.
They continue to Lily’s island where, attempting to steal Lily’s directions to the fruit tree, Dolittle is apprehended by Lily’s father King Rassouli and is locked in a cage with Barry, a moody tiger looking for his mother’s approval. Just as Dolittle is to be killed, a newly-courageous Chee-Chee incapacitates Barry. Dolittle and Tommy escape but lose Lily’s journal to Müdfly and have their ship destroyed. Rassouli loans Dolittle a boat to honour his daughter.
Trailing Müdfly, Dolittle and company meet Ginko-Who-Soars, a dragon who guards the cure tree. Ginko attacks, causing Müdfly to fall down a hole, but soon collapses from internal pain. Dolittle diagnoses and cures the dragon who gratefully shows Dolittle the tree.
Dolittle returns in time to heal the queen. Sticks reveals that Lord Thomas Badgley, one of the Queen’s chairmen, poisoned her in order to take the crown for himself, and it was he who ordered Müdfly to foil Dolittle’s quest. The Queen has him arrested for treason, and thanks Dolittle for saving her.
Dolittle takes on Tommy as his apprentice and re-opens his sanctuary.
On 20 March 2017, it was announced that Robert Downey Jr. would star in The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, aa adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s second published Dolittle book, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. In December 2017, Harry Collett and Jim Broadbent were also cast in live action roles. In February 2018, Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen were added to the live action cast, while Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes and Selena Gomez were cast to voice animals. In March 2018, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour and Carmen Ejogo all signed on for voice roles as well. However, Carmen Ejogo’s character of Regine, a lioness, was ultimately cut from the finished film.
Principal production commenced mid-February 2018. Live-action scenes began filming in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria in May 2018, with further location filming at South Forest, Windsor Great Park and on the Menai Suspension Bridge in North West Wales, in June 2018.
In April 2019, it was reported the film had undergone three weeks of reshoots following poor reviews after test screenings. Director Jonathan Liebesman helped to oversee the filming alongside Gaghan, while Chris McKay wrote new material after it became clear from first cuts that the comedy elements of the film were not coming together as well as the producers had hoped. Prior to this, Universal had turned towards Seth Rogen and Neighbors co-writer Brendan O’Brien to help add comedy to the film. However, neither could remain committed to the project and dropped out. McKay was assigned to storyboard sequences and assemble different edits before he ultimately left to direct The Tomorrow War. Liebesman took over McKay’s duties and finished the film alongside Gaghan. The Lego Batman Movie scribe John Whittington had also performed rewrites on the script amidst reshoots, and flew to London to meet with Downey, who allegedly tore Whittington’s script apart in favour of “new ideas” afterward.
In August 2019, it was reported that the film’s title had been changed from The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle to simply Dolittle. In January 2020, on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, Downey discussed the inspiration for the Dr. Dolittle character in the film, which he said stemmed from a Welsh neo-pagan physician called William Price.
Dolittle was originally set for release on 24 May 2019, but was moved to 12 April 2019 to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which itself was later moved from May to 20 December 2019. The film was later moved again to its final release date of 17 January 2020.
Dolittle grossed $77 million in the United States & Canada and $173.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $250.9 million against a production budget of $175 million. Due to its high production and marketing costs, the film needed to gross around $500 million worldwide in order to break even; following its underwhelming debut weekend, it was estimated the film would lose Universal between $50–100 million.
After months of delays, the film was released in China on 24 July, and made $5.2 million from about 3,000 screens in its opening weekend. By 6 August, the film had reached $14.6 million in grosses in the country.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 14% based on 223 reviews, with an average rating of 3.86/10.
Will Arnett provided the uncredited voice of the Jack Rabbit in Rassouli’s prison.
This is Robert Downey Jr.’s first non-Iron Man role since The Judge (2014).
When the movie rights went up for auction, several studios went to bid before Universal Pictures got the rights. Amongst them were Sony and Twentieth Century Fox, with the latter having previously produced three theatrical movies based on the Dr. Dolittle series.
The cast includes five Oscar winners: Rami Malek, Jim Broadbent, Dame Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer and Marion Cotillard; and four Oscar nominees: Robert Downey, Jr., Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Kumail Nanjiani.
Randy Newman was the first choice to score this movie, seeing how his uncle Lionel Newman had involvement with 1967’s Doctor Dolittle.
Nicolas Cage turned down playing the role of King Rassouli.
Carmen Ejogo’s scenes were cut out of the final movie once reshoots began and her character’s inclusion no longer made sense.
Robert Downey, Jr.’s Director on Chaplin was Sir Richard Attenborough, who appeared in Doctor Dolittle.
Universal Pictures’ fourth live-action/CGI hybrid movie after Casper, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Hop.
This motion picture used sustainability strategies to reduce its carbon emissions and environmental impact.