An actual conversation:
Me: Guess what I watched last night! Doctor Dolittle! The one with Rex Harrison.
My mother (in a horrified voice): WHY?
Me: For my blog. It was nominated for best picture.
My mother: Well, you really took one for the team on that one.
Contrary to the way this conversation makes it sound, Doctor Dolittle is not an evil movie. It is, however, a rather tedious movie in which forty-five minutes’ worth of plot is stretched to fill two and half hours.
So what’s the story? Dr. Dolittle is a kindly country doctor who learns to talk to animals with the help of his parrot, Polynesia. Because he can communicate with animals better than humans, he decides to be a vet instead of a doctor. For reasons not made clear in the movie, he wants to find the Great Pink Sea Snail and talk to it, so after he gets enough money and breaks out of the insane asylum, he goes on a voyage to find it.
The Good: As I watched this movie, I kept thinking what a nightmare it must have been to make. It was the 1960s, so the animals aren’t CGI or puppets, but real live animals. If you count the ducks and the goats and the pigs and the cows and the bears and the ridiculously cute lion cubs and all the other animals, there must be hundreds of animals. I can’t even imagine trying to orchestrate such a thing. That alone is very impressive.
There was some fun humor. I even laughed out loud a couple of times. I enjoyed the song that Emma sang as she was storming away from meeting Dr. Dolittle for the first time.
I will also admit that Rex Harrison did a good job. Although on the surface the role of Dr. Dolittle is quite similar to that of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (a middle-aged linguist who doesn’t get on well with people), he didn’t play the roles the same way. Dr. Dolittle is much kinder and gentler, and it showed in Harrison’s face.
The Bad: There wasn’t much of a story. The movie kind of meandered around various vignettes. There’s the house scene, where we and Stubbins are introduced to the doctor and his many animal friends. There’s the ugly scene between Bellowes and the doctor. There’s the courtroom scene. There’s the breaking out of jail scene. There’s the voyaging scene and the island scene. I remember being amused by the book when I was a child, which makes me think that there was good source material, but the writers couldn’t seem to find a straightforward linear story from it.
Also, the love triangle was…odd. I could see no reason for Emma to fall for Dr. Dolittle, the middle-aged linguist, over Matthew, the charming young Irishman. I don’t care what My Fair Lady teaches us. Attractive young women do not fall in love with middle-aged linguists who don’t get on with people and can’t sing. I don’t buy it.
The Ugly: It was two and one-half hours long. With fourteen mediocre musical numbers. Enough said.
Oscars Won: Best effects, special effects; best music, original song (“Talk to the Animals”).
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best cinematography; best film editing; best sound; best music, original music score; best music, scoring of music, adaptation or treatment; best art direction-set direction.
A Curiosity: Richard Attenborough is in this movie for about as long as Judi Dench is in Shakespeare in Love, but Richard Attenborough sings a song. He got a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for this. I didn’t know he could sing. And I’m not sure that what he did counted as being a supporting actor. I wish I knew how these things are judged.