Did Robert Downey Jr Kill Off the Dolittle Brand?

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Cinemagoers have been treated to a lot of remakes and reimagined films in recent years. While some hit the mark and gave us a new take on a classic – such as Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight – and others added a new angle to a franchise – such as Jurassic World – some remakes ended up falling short. Unfortunately for Robert Downey Jr, his 2020 remake of Dolittle, brought to life famously by Eddie Murphy in 1998, failed to achieve the magic of the earlier instalment and was largely panned by critics. Is it too late for the Dolittle story?  

Downey Jr’s Dolittle film has been called many things and none of them are good. The film takes on the classic story of the eccentric doctor who could speak to animals. But, a combination of Downey Jr’s strange accent, hatred from test audiences, two years of reshoots and missed premieres led to the film failing in an epic way. Some suggested that the story in this form was redundant and many agreed that Eddie Murphy’s version would be the definitive Dolittle on the big screen.

The 1998 film starred comedian Eddie Murphy, whose comic timing and ability to play the funny man in a film that largely relied on comedy was partly responsible for its success. Robert Downey Jr may deliver snarky lines as Iron Man, but the ability to carry a comic character for the duration of the film wasn’t as evident.

The film could instead be repackaged as a TV series. By changing the nature of the concept and using the doctor-can-speak-to-animals gimmick, there are many avenues that the franchise could take next. There have been successful TV series previously and streaming services could do a lot with the concept and premise, which remains strong.

Indeed, while a film – or even a TV series – based around Dr Dolittle might not be wanted as much,  the gaming industry could take the theme of the film and create some really clever stuff with it. There was a 2006 PS2 game that did quite well, taking the Rollercoaster Tycoon/Theme Hospital/Chemist Tycoon gameplay by making you a vet in charge of an ever-growing caseload. Indeed, the theme of Dolittle can even be seen as successful in the iGaming sphere, as shows by the Quickspin slot game. Tales of Dr. Dolittle is available to play at casinos like LeoVegas and is based on the adventures of Dr. Dolittle. The game combines traditional slot gameplay with motifs and iconography based on the Dolittle franchise, marrying two concepts that fans are familiar with.

 

Perhaps the time just wasn’t right to see Dolittle on the big screen again. This isn’t the first Dolittle based film to be panned by critics. Rex Harrison’s 1967 film based on the original series of books by Hugh Lofting was also a flop. It was a musical and many suspect that the lack of visual effects of the era ruined the premise of being able to speak to animals. If that’s the case, 2020 – a year when CGI is almost seamless – should have therefore given us a film where the animals spoke effortlessly. But perhaps our graphic design ability has grown too good or perhaps people are tired of CGI animals and have simply grown desensitized to the concept.

The film might have been panned, left unwatched, or simply ignored, but it won’t do anything to tarnish the brands of either Dr Dolittle or Robert Downey Jr. The latter will likely use his production company to find another slightly eccentric, dry character to play as he does best. The former will continue to survive in the game based around the character’s antics and could be revisited by one of the streaming giants in years to come.