Dolittle is a bit like doctor-ordered medicine: Some moments may have you holding your nose, but it does the trick. Despite pulling out all the stops with an A-list, award-winning crew (including Syriana director/writer Stephen Gaghan, Pan's Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, composer Danny Elfman, and more), the first family film from Team Downey -- the production company Downey Jr. runs with his wife, producer Susan Downey -- is just OK. It's not hysterical, but it's funny enough: Laughs come from a squid who refuses to talk by saying "snitches get stitches" and a sight gag in which a dog scoots his rear across the room. The messages are positive but unlikely to be transformative -- although gorilla Chee Chee's constant self-encouragements are pretty great ("I'm not a prisoner of fear! It's OK to be scared!"). The overall demonstrations of friendship, compassion, communication, and teamwork are always welcome in a children's film. And there's also the more subtle but present message that if you love and protect animals, they will love and protect you, too.
All of that said, the film has two modes: chaos and quiet. The menagerie of animals and the resulting slapstick pandemonium is just too much at once -- so many characters, so many animals, so much yelling, so much craziness. And on the other side of things is Dolittle himself. Specifically, his voice. Dolittle speaks with a strong Welsh accent that doesn't feel like it belongs to Downey Jr.: The texture, resonance, and intonation don't match the voice of the Iron Man actor we know so well. Compounding that disconnect is his too-rich audio quality -- it almost sounds like it was recorded in a voice-over booth and dubbed in. Perhaps that voice is just Downey's own creative spin on a Victorian English character, and perhaps a decision was made to have him voice his part in a sound booth to match that of the actors providing the animals' voices. And Downey's mannerisms and facial expressions are certainly consistent with the trademark style that audiences love. But the sum of these things creates an uncanny valley that may be too distracting for some adults, even if kids don't notice or care. Dolittle is unlikely to resonate for as long as Lofting's novels have, but it does provide a couple of hours of decent family entertainment, and sometimes that's enough.