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Despite incredible production values and the expected splendid performance from Robert Downey Jr., 2020's Dolittle, the third version of the classic Hugh Lofton character, is an overblown and overly complex look at the doctor who talks to animals where the real problem lies in the basic premise of the film.

The film begins after the death of Dolittle's wife, where he has cut himself off from normal society and lives behind closed gates with his large menagerie of animals. Dolittle is summoned to the bedside of a dying Queen Victoria where he is asked to travel to a mysterious island that has a tree which contains the medicine which is believed to be a cure for the monarch.

This story first came to the screen as a dreadful musical in 1967 with Rex Harrison playing the good doctor and the only animal who actually spoke was his beloved parrot, Polynesia. Eddie Murphy brought the character back to the screen in 1998 with the animals all voiced by celebrities. Screenwriter/director Stephen Gaughan, who won an Oscar for the screenplay to Traffic has tried to incorporate elements from both previous versions and added new layers of his own, but it doesn't really work because the entire premise of this film spits in the face of the original concept of the character of John Dolittle: Dolittle is supposed to have turned his back on humans because he likes treating animals better than he likes people. Why would John Dolittle put himself and his entire animal family at risk for the very human Queen Victoria?

The film provides Dolittle with a new backstory that does connect with the finale (though, for reasons I couldn't fathom, was animated). The character of young Tommy Stubbins, who was introduced in the '67 film as pretty much a glorified cameo, is beefed up here but seemingly just to pad running time. The journey to the mysterious island is a labored one, which actually climaxed with a confrontation with a fire breathing dragon which, considering the story that is being told here, smacked of cliche. This movie attempts to capture the spirit behind both of the previous Dolittles, but seems to be mocking them. Gaughan's screenplay even incorporates contemporary pop culture references and language that were completely out of place in the period setting.

There are some positives here. The film is sumptuously mounted with superb production values, with standout art direction, film editing, and sound. No expense was spared to bring this film to fruition and it aids the enjoyment a bit. Robert Downey Jr. is superb in the title role, employing a decent Welsh accent and there is outstanding voice work for the animals, especially Emma Thompson as Polynesia, Rami Malek as the gorilla named Chee Chee, John Cena as a polar bear named Yoshi, Ralph Fienines as Barry the tiger, and Jason Mantzoukas as a firefly named James, but a great film is dependent on a great story and the story here just didn't work for this reviewer.