Plot: Dr. Dolittle (Rex Harrison) is a veterinarian with a unique skill set, as he seems to be able to diagnose and treat cases that baffle other doctors, as if he has some kind of special bond with the animals. Of course, he does have a special bond with animals of all kinds and thanks to his inquisitive nature, he was able to learn how to talk with the animals. Though he still working out some wrinkles when it comes to fish, as they seem to think he always shouts. After a run in with the law and a tour with a circus, Dolittle begins a quest to fulfill his life’s ambition, which is to meet and talk with a giant pink sea snail. But in order to reach the area that might be home to the snail, he will need to go on quite an adventure. Can Dolittle and his friends navigate the dangerous terrain and if so, do the pink sea snails even exist anymore?
Entertainment Value: Doctor Dolittle seems like a premise that would be a brisk, light musical comedy, but instead, this 1967 production runs over two and a half hours and stretches that premise paper thin. The first hour and a half or so focuses on setting up Dolittle and his magical kinship with the animals, but draws out that process to the point of excess. The movie moves at a glacial pace for a long while as it starts, which would be fine if it wasn’t mostly filler and in truth, even the most dedicated of musical devotees will likely find their patience tested. But I think there is some fun stuff buried in the slow drift, as the movie has some odd vibes and of course, I love seeing the wide scope of animal performers in action. So you have to make it through a lot to pull out the positives, but there is some fun to be had here. Once Dolittle and his friends head off on the island adventure, things pick up and the finale is an outlandish turn of events that gives the movie a wild sendoff. The movie was a disaster upon release and stories of Rex Harrison’s hellish antics on set were rampant, so the movie’s reputation isn’t the most polished around. I can’t make an argument for Doctor Dolittle as a misunderstood classic, but I do like the animals, Harrison’s performance, and some of the more off the wall elements at work here.
Rex Harrison has the lead here and based on the multitude of stories from the shoot, he was a total nightmare to work with. I love the claim that he steered his yacht into active shots, then refused to move. Whatever his antics behind the scenes, Harrison delivers on screen and is fun to watch in this colorful role. He is able to convey a genuine sense of wonder as Dolittle, which makes his scenes infectious and fun, while he makes it through the musical elements, but just barely. If he was as cantankerous on set as it is claimed, perhaps he deserved all the animal bites and sheep urination. The human cast also includes Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, and even Richard Attenborough, though the animals often steal the scenes. I mean, few things can compete with a mischievous chimp or Rex Harrison riding a giraffe, right? This one has some musical magic underneath it all, but is so drawn out, it can be a tough watch. But I appreciate the more oddball aspects and all of the interesting animals, though the wild finale remains my favorite part of Doctor Dolittle. Perhaps this one is best approached as more of a curio, but I still think there’s some solid, offbeat fun here.
The Disc: Twilight Time issues the movie with a beautiful new HD treatment, one that sparkles with lush detail and gorgeous colors. The image is clean, but natural and retains terrific fine detail. The colors are perhaps the most striking element however, with bold and vibrant hues throughout. An audio commentary track with songwriter Leslie Bricusse headlines the extras, in which Briscusse covers the production as a whole, with a focus on the musical elements, of course. You can also find an isolated musical score, the film’s trailer, and the Biography episode on Rex Harrison, which offers an in depth look at the man and his career.