So here’s what makes Jack Sparrow work: his surroundings. You put that character that kinda knows he’s in a pirate movie, and you surround him with other characters that play it straight, even with some comic relief characters, Sparrow is the only one that is out of place and it is what makes him perfect and most of all, memorable. So much so in fact that he steals the movie and they make four sequels where they try to push him front and center. This is what the filmmakers behind Dolittle attempt to do, but in one single film.
Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) and his wife run the most famous and most interesting animal hospital and sanctuary in England. With Doolittle’s uncanny ability to communicate with animals in their own language it makes him the best veterinarian in the world. But when tragedy strikes and Dolittle loses his wife he closes his doors and becomes a hermit with only the animals to keep him company. When a series of events bring two children to his door, Tommy (Harry Collet) with and injured animal and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) with an urgent request to save a dying Queen Victoria, Dolittle reluctantly goes on a quest to save her with his team of creatures including scared gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek) the ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani) and a crazy squirrel Kevin (Craig Robinson).
The immediate wrong turn Dolittle makes is mixing the historical humor with modern day humor. You can’t have Downey doing a Sherlock Holmes Victorian-style joke on ridiculous villain played by Michael Sheen, next to and animal shouting “I’m too beautiful to die!”. It just doesn’t work. Even if a lot of what the animals say and do is funny, it’s so out of place that takes you out of the film, even if it is supposed to have talking animals that can together, sail a ship. As far as Robert Downey Jr. and his version of Jack Sparrow, it is completely disjointed, he goes from a Irish accent to deep American, to I-don’t-know-what-the-hell. The animals do give some genuine laughs, mainly because you have talent like Nanjiani, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, and in my opinion, the funniest character of the dragonfly James voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.
You can feel the re-writes and late additions to punch up the humor, but it doesn’t help the typical fantasy adventure elements that you see in most films of this kind. That’s the other thing, the whole film plays out just as you expect it to, there are no surprises and very little substance. Kids will think it’s cute and enjoy the goofy animal jokey-jokes, but it is instantly forgettable. Downey doing his best Jack Sparrow impersonation forgets that vital element of surroundings, Sparrow had chemistry with every character, even the side ones. But in Dolittle there is no chemistry, just a heavy mixture of talent run amok passing as a movie.