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Robert Downey Jr’s ‘Dolittle’ Is a ‘Calamity for the Ages’ and a ‘Haphazard Mess,’ Critics Say

Universal’s expensive family adventure has a 13% score on Rotten Tomatoes

Critics were already stunned and perplexed when Robert Downey Jr. chose to follow-up his stint in the Marvel films to star in “Dolittle,” and they’re even more confused after seeing the film that they’re calling a “calamity for the ages” and a “haphazard mess.”

Universal Pictures’ “Dolittle,” a family-friendly adventure comedy from director Stephen Gaghan based on Hugh Lofting’s beloved children’s character who can talk to animals, has just a 13% score on Rotten Tomatoes from 67 reviews. Critics who saw the film have called attention to its extensive reshoots and revisions, though for some even that doesn’t explain how much they hated it.

And perhaps unlike Universal’s other CGI-heavy and furry misfire “Cats,” “Dolittle” might not even fall into so-bad-its-good territory.

“Every frame, every cut feels off. But I’m not sure we can entirely blame reshoots for this. There is no onscreen evidence that ‘Dolittle,’ in any iteration, was ever anything but hopelessly inert,” Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri wrote. “And failure this thorough has a virulent effect that reaches beyond one mere film; it makes you question the cinematic form itself. Is this thing uniquely bad, or did movies always suck and I’m just now realizing it was an actual thought that briefly passed through my head.”

Numerous other critics have singled out another bizarre scene in which Downey Jr.’s hero … well, we’ll let /Film’s Hoai-Tran Bui describe it:

“This is a movie that features a scene in which Dolittle sticks a leek up a dragon’s ass to dislodge skeletons, pieces of armor, and what looks to be the entire Spanish Inquisition. At the end, the dragon rewards him with a tender thank you and a long, drawn-out fart in his face.”

A rough weekend may be in store for Universal, as the film is projected to open in the low to mid $20 million range against a reported budget of $175 million.

Check out some more reviews from critics below:

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

“You go into this thing expecting silly insouciance and walk away from it questioning reality. It is anti-cinema. Of course, it should be a spirited, high-flying adventure, with wise-cracking CGI animals voiced by celebrities (John Cena! Selena Gomez! Rami Malek! Jason Mantzoukas, apparently!), but it’s all so cluttered and shrill that I’m not even sure I got the basis of the plot right.”

Hoai-Tran Bui, /Film

“A series of increasingly bizarre acting choices and cringe-worthy anachronisms turn ‘Dolittle’ into an unwatchable circus. Let’s talk first about Downey Jr.’s garbled accent, which sounds like a Welsh man was put through a meat grinder. His mumbled delivery and irregular speech pattern seem to be trying to recall that of Johnny Depp’s massively popular Captain Jack Sparrow — a similarity that becomes more apparent when ‘Dolittle’ suddenly transforms from a domestic comedy into a grand seafaring adventure.”

Katie Rife, The AV Club

“Who is Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the title character of ‘Dolittle’ for, exactly? It’s a snuffling, shuffling, head-twitching collection of tics, with a physicality that’s more evocative of a nervous squirrel than the actual CGI squirrel who accompanies Dr. Dolittle on his adventures across the sea.”

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“The C.G. animals are watchable if transparently artificial, a plus. No real giraffe (polar bear, etc.) needs to be abused to create another fantasy in which nonhuman creatures behave like cutesy, cartoonish versions of people. The charm of this fantasy has always been dubious and will presumably fade as the natural world continues to disappear and more and more species become extinct. Increased awareness of our contemporary environmental crisis may explain why, unlike the Murphy movies, this ‘Dolittle’ is set in the past. Because if animals really could talk, they wouldn’t be pleasantly cooing and chatting us up as the world burned. They’d be screaming.”

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

“Rex Harrison famously endured getting urinated upon by real sheep during the filming of the 1967 musical ‘Doctor Dolittle,’ while the 2020 version of ‘Dolittle’ sees Robert Downey Jr. removing bagpipes from a CG dragon’s rectum before receiving a face full of gastric wind as a reward. Whichever actor had it worse, it’s the audience who loses. Downey’s revival of Hugh Lofting’s legendary loquacious veterinarian, one who can communicate with any member of any species, splats onto the screen like horse dung, with few laughs and no charm.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“The problems begin and end with the script, credited to three writers. ‘Dolittle’ turns its title character into an eccentric and wearying blur of tics, tacked onto a character who comports himself like a bullying, egocentric A-lister rather than someone who, you know, actually enjoys the company of animals. The banter enjoys the benefit of genuine comic pros doing the voices, but the zingers remain low on zing, bordering on total zinglessness. ‘I’ve got a front row seat to Crazy Town!’ goes one bit, reminiscent of an ‘Ice Age’ movie.”

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times

“If I could talk to the animals, I’d say one thing: Please make it stop.”