A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Doctor Dolittle is very family-friendly for its lively songs, fuzzy animals, dancing, and cavorting. But watch out for some dated stereotypes, including that of a "Red Indian" called Long Arrow who sends an illiterate message along with an animal he's captured for Doolittle. Women also get second-class status, which is evident when Dolittle claims that he treated Emma "very well," even though she's a female. Young children will appreciate the fun and silliness but may be impatient with the slow first half.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
He's a bit awkward around people, but DOCTOR DOLITTLE has no trouble talking to the animals. This 1967 musical set in England in the mid-1800s follows the story of former medical doctor (Rex Harrison) who lives with a menagerie of talking animals and is sent to a mental institution for his seemingly unwell mental health after helping a sick seal. After being rescued by his two best friends, Doctor Dolittle embarks on a daring sea adventure to find the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail.
Is it any good?
Children will swoon over the animals (lots and lots of them) in Doctor Dolittle, while adults may grow comfortably nostalgic. Based on Hugh Lofting's popular children's stories from the 1920s, this 1967 Oscar nominee for Best Picture (by 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea director Richard Fleischer) is bursting with lively songs and exotic animals, but it takes its time gathering steam. Rex Harrison, who flexed his vocal cords with Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, is quite likable as Dolittle. He's at his best when interacting with animals, especially when asking for hints that might lead him to the Great Pink Sea Snail.
There are some winning moments in the first half, like a dog dusting furniture with its tail and the uneasiness of a pig around frying bacon, but the movie only really flies once we leave Puddleby for the more exotic Sea Star Island. There, the native leader, played by wonderfully charismatic Geoffrey Holder, brings vivacity to the proper English proceedings. Why didn't he get a song? The rest of the non-animal cast is unfortunately a bit drab, with little more to do than tag along. That doesn't mean kids won't appreciate the songs, silliness, and fun characters, and may even come away with some positive messages about communication and empathy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the dated stereotypes in this movie. Which stereotypes did you notice? What was your reaction? Is the movie still enjoyable even with these elements? Are these kinds of stereotypes still evident today?
Talk about learning different languages (Dolittle knows 498), and use it as a jumping off point for encouraging language development.
The film makes a plea for humans to treat each other with civility and kindness. How can your family encourage kindness? What steps can you take to make the world a more civil place?
- In theaters: December 19, 1967
- On DVD or streaming: October 31, 2000
- Cast: Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar
- Director: Richard Fleischer
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Music and Sing-Along, Wild Animals
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: January 15, 2020
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