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I'm trying to remember the Rex Harrison version. There was this song in it called "Where are the Words?" It was a romantic love ballad sung by Dr. Dolittle's friend about some other character in the Doctor's life. I remember the opening line: "There she is, sleeping on the laundry. How do you describe a girl so fair?"
How this fit into the plot of the original Doctor Dolittle, or what that plot was, I cannot, for the life of me remember. There was a giant sea snail, and a giant moon moth, and a push-me-pull-you. Something about vegetarianism. A court-room drama and/or musical number. But seeing Eddie Murphy in this remake has muddied my memories of the original beyond recognition. Apart from the name, I don't think there are any similarities. And now, a few weeks after viewing Murphy's film, I can't remember much of it, either.
Do I have a poor memory when it comes to films about doctors? No, I recall Dr. Strangelove, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and even What's Up Doc? as if I'd seen them recently, and the latter I haven't seen since the 70's. Oh, that nutty Barbra drove Ryan O'Neal nearly crazy with her pushiness and blundering!
But let me try to recall the latest Murphy vehicle. The movie opens with Dolittle as a young boy manifesting the ability to talk to animals. No explanation: it's just something he does. Later we find out that his father also had manifested the ability as a boy, so it's genetic. (That's an explanation?!)
So, meeting his school principal for the first time, the young Dolittle sniffs the old man's butt, embarrassing his parents to no end. Yes, it's your old favorite among all the over-familiar Eddie Murphy antics: get a young boy to do something off-color. Either that or an old woman.
Anyway, Murphy is told never to talk to animals again. Then he grows up in as much time as it takes to kick the kid off the set and bring the man onto it. Now Dr. Dolittle is a detached, soul-drained doctor. His small practice is about to be bought out by some huge HMO, and Murphy is ready to get a bundle of cash for it--even if it means that his patients will no longer get the personal, heart-felt care they are deluded into thinking they get from him in his current practice.
Dolittle's wife, played by a delicious woman, puts up with his chilliness--but why? Dolittle has two daughters: the older daughter is sassy and adolescent with no need for either of her parents. As a sulky teenager, she appears in the movie just enough to fill the role, and she's not missed when she's off camera. Murphy's younger daughter is nerdy and needy and obviously a latent animal-talker, too. This movie wants to pretend that this power is a secret, and it plans to spring it on us later in the film, but the tyke's resemblance to "young Dolittle" in the principal-butt-sniffing scene gives it away at first glance. Sorry, Murphy.
So, with the family set up, we get to the plot: one night after a hard day, the dull doctor accidentally hits a dog. The dog cusses Murphy out. Yes! Dolittle's inborn understanding of our animal friends has resurfaced in this moment of crisis. And that, my friends, is when the zaniness really begins.
It goes on for a while. And then the film has a climactic hospital scene, and at last, it's all over.
Oh, I'm really losing the story here. Inner hamster, I call on you to guide me through this wafer-thin plot. Aum shavings... Aum shavings...
Dolittle has to go through a few difficulties, like being committed to a mental institution that's run by an old med-school rival of his. But he escapes once he accepts his scriptwriter-given talents, with the help of some animals. Dolittle's emergence as super-vet ruins the chance that his small practice will become a pretty bauble in the HMO's crown (because talking to animals is just too silly no matter how profitable it might seem to someone with business sense), and that causes Dolittle's colleagues no little degree of zany frustration. (Oops, I said "zany" again.)
Dolittle saves a rats life by expressing its tiny bowels. Farting rats--now that's funny! And finally, Murphy's youngest comes out as an animal talker herself. What a surprising twist. Not to ruin it, but there's a happy ending. (I hope you aren't angry, JMB.)
Interestingly, Murphy isn't the center of attention in this film. He actually plays straight-man to a mutt, to a hamster, to rats, cats, horses, and insects, all with celebrity voices. It's a good thing he strains so hard to play a serious doctor otherwise he might get lost in this menagerie, upstaged by rodent, Chris Rock. Rent it for kids. Or try the original. This one's an empty lark with few laughs amid tired, tired talking animal antics.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.