Doctor Dolittle should have become a proctologist. Then he'd have
been better prepared for the unrelenting onslaught of scatological humor
in this crappy comedy. There's nothing wrong with a gross-out
joke and "Doctor Dolittle" has quite a few funny ones, but the film's
unrelenting barrage of butt, rectal and poop humor quickly becomes
tiresome, and eventually flat-out annoying. Is this really the best these
guys could do with the concept?
Related to Hugh Lofting's children stories and the 1967 Rex Harrison
film in name only, this "Doctor Dolittle" begins with a pup (Ellen
Degeneres) explaining to young John Dolittle that dogs sniff each others
rears as a way of saying hello. When the boy emulates the behavior and
takes a whiff of the new minister's ass, it's off to the pound for Ellen,
while John's father (Ozzie Davis) calls in an exorcist to rid the boy of
his ability to talk to the animals.
Cut to the present, where the adult John (Eddie Murphy) is a successful
doctor so caught up in his work that he neglects his family. Although his
partners are excited that their thriving practice is about to be snapped
up by an HMO, John has lost his enthusiasm for practicing medicine.
Things change when he whacks his head in an auto mishap and his gift
returns. To his amazement, John hears the dog he struck call him
Of course, John and Lucky (Norm Macdonald), the recovering mutt,
become pals. Soon after, the doc treats a wounded owl and word spreads
through the animal kingdom about the doctor who can talk with the animals.
John adjusts to the situation and finds his love of healing renewed,
although his co-workers and family fear he's lost his mind.
That's certainly a sturdy enough framework for a comedy, had the writers
stretched their imaginations a bit. If you take a couple minutes right
now, I guarantee you'll come up with at least a dozen gags more inventive
than those that appear in this film. After viewing "Doctor Dolittle,"
it's easy to imagine the producers strapping writers Nat Mauldin and
Larry Levin in chairs facing a wall covered with photos of various
animals' posteriors and saying "Create!" From pigeon poop gags to a long
scene involving the retrieval of a thermometer from Lucky's rectum, it's
obvious that Mauldin and Levin spent considerable time sniffing butts in
preparation for their work.
Despite the repetitive theme, a number of the jokes are funny and several
of the actor's providing the animal voices do fine work. Norm
Macdonald is quite likable as the sarcastic Lucky. If only he had been
this engaging in "Dirty Work," his own recent comedy misfire. Garry
Shandling and Julie Kavner are funny as squabbling pigeons and
Albert Brooks contributes a sympathetic performance as a sick tiger.
Look for quick, but cute, voice work from Paul Reubens as a raccoon,
and Gilbert Gottfried as an obsessive-compulsive dog. On the other side
of the coin, Chris Rock is just loud and irritating as a guinea pig with
And then there's Eddie Murphy. In a lapse of judgment more annoying
than the potty-humor fixation, Murphy is cast in a role where he has
little to do but react, wasting the actor's comedic skills. Noticing that
their star has nothing to do, the desperate writers insert a mawkish
subplot in order to give Eddie the chance to deliver a heartfelt speech
or two. It doesn't help.
Despite a few good scenes, "Doctor Dolittle" is a drag, a phenomenal
waste of a good concept and a talented actor. How did such a misfire
occur? My theory is that someone told the writers that they should
create a film like "that charming comedy about a pig." Then, in doing
research, they made the fatal mistake of studying "Porky's" instead of
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott