On this day in comedy on June 26, 1998 Dr. Dolittle was released by 20th Century Fox.
This PG-13 movie marketed as a family film was based so loosely on the Hugh Lofting children’s book series that the only thing used was the name and the skill of the lead character. In this second filmed version (the first starred Rex Harrison in 1967 and bombed miserably), Eddie Murphy plays the title role of a guy who can not only understand when animals talk, he can talk back to them and they understand him. The fact he’s an actual doctor makes this just slightly less weird to the people in his life.
The plot revolves around Murphy, who as a child (Raymond Matthew Mason / Dari Gerard Smith) knew he had the gift to communicate with animals, but his father didn’t care for his son sniffing the backsides of humans as way of saying hello and had an exorcist exercise the gift outta him. That traumatic experience leaves the young Murphy with no memory of being so awesome and he grew up to be bland like most. Then one day a standard issue movie bump on the head causes the adult Murphy to regain his gift and it freaks him out. At first he thinks he’s crazy, but after he befriends a dog, who turns him onto a suicidal tiger, who Murphy tries to save along with any animal that needs saving and he’s caught giving CPR to a rat, his business partner thinks he’s crazy. That suspicion gets Murphy committed to an insane asylum.
While in the padded room Murphy gets in touch with his inner disdain for talking animals and upon his release he wants nothing to do with any of them including the suicidal tiger who still hasn’t offed himself yet. Well, Murphy’s youngest daughter thought it was cool her dad could talk to animals and tells this to her grandfather; the same guy that hired the exorcist. Murphy overhears this and hooks up with the dog so they can save the tiger. Of course they do, with the help of all available animals who thwart the attempts of the authorities to stop Murphy. The climax being the tiger just needed an operation to ease some pain, it was a complete success and Murphy is a hero who nobody thinks he’s crazy.
Dr. Dolittle co-stars Ossie Davis, Raven-Symone, Kyla Pratt, Kristen Wilson, Peter Boyle, Oliver Platt, Jeffrey Tambor, Richard Schiff, Paul Giamatti and Pruitt Taylor Vince; with vocal talent provided by Chris Rock, Norm MacDonald, Ellen DeGeneres, Jenna Elfman, Albert Brooks, Gilbert Gottfried, Hamilton Camp, Julie Kavner, John Leguizamo, Jonathan Lipnicki, Brian Doyle-Murray, Paul Reubens and Garry Shandling.
Written by Larry Levin & Nat Mauldin and directed by Betty Thomas, Dr. Dolittle received mixed reviews from the critics, but plenty of love from the public. On a budget of $70.5 million, the film grossed $144,156,605 domestically and $150,300,000 abroad for a worldwide box office take of $294,456,605 and that was enough to justify four sequels: Dr. Dolittle 2, Dr. Dolittle 3, Tail to the Chief and Million Dollar Mutts.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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