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DR DOLITTLE 2

SYNOPSIS:
Since his earlier escapade and the revelation he can talk to animals, Dr Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) hasn’t looked back. One day, he is approached by a group of animals to help save a forest by reintroducing an endangered species into the wild – the Pacific Western bear. Dolittle finds Archie (voice of Steve Zahn) a performing bear in a circus and convinces him to return to the forest for a thirty-day trial period. But Archie is more interested in kareoke than hunting and fishing, and Ava (voice of Lisa Kudrow) the only female Pacific Northwest bear in sight, doesn't seem interested in mating. As he works to help Archie adapt to the forest and win Ava, Dolittle finds that the struggle is putting a strain on his own family life.

Silly? You bet! But is it fun? Absolutely. There’s something liberating about nonsense. After all, we’re talking about talking animals. The most amazing thing really is that if you buy the premise (I must confess, I was ready for a dose of escapism, and I did) - and yes, you do need more than a bare bear-size leap of faith – you can have a jolly good chuckle and tune out of the real world for 87 surreal, off-the-wall minutes. Hats off to Eddie Murphy, who plays it for real - and most convincingly. As for the animals – there are over 250 of the four-footed variety – you know what scene stealers they are. Lucky the dog is back (and as luck will have it, he narrates this unlikely tale), also the little French monkey with the alcohol problem, plus the beavers, possums, foxes, giraffes, owls, racoons, weasels and bear cubs to name a few. Star of the animal cast is a 7-foot, 800 pound bear named Tank, who is trained to do the most un-bear-like things under the expert handling of Doug Seus (wonder if he’s a doctor?), who formerly trained Bart (The Edge) – the John Wayne of bear actors. Tank plays Archie, seamlessly voiced by zany Steve Zahn, who sings and dances and turns his nose up at the thought of hibernating for six months, hunting, swimming (haven’t you heard of that invention called The Boat?) and does many things that no self-respecting bear would dream of doing. But it’s all in a good cause – and it’s called entertainment. The script is unabashedly a vehicle for Murphy and the nonsense, and nonsense is indeed allowed to thrive shamelessly. There is enough toilet humour to keep the young fry in stitches (there’s a scene of questionable taste when Dr Dolittle and Archie are in the restaurant’s toilet together), while clever, very funny film references pop up in the most unexpected places. A divine white fox retorts Hasta La Vista, a beaver mumbles like The Godfather (after all he is a simple fisherman blessed with many friends), the wily reptile suggests using the Force and then there’s an ominous voice that tantalisingly whispers Hello Clarice… The scene when we meet three bears locked in a cell singing Barry Manilow’s Copacabana (Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl) tickled my funny bone big time. The storyline loosely embraces the environmental issue; we should preserve our natural habitat while nurturing family values and of course love. John Dolittle discovers that if it ain’t bad enough to have the whole animal kingdom wanting a piece of him, he also has to cope with a 16 year old daughter intent on listening to her heart and hormones. It may not have the novelty value of the original, but Dr Dolittle 2 is a do-lots for lovers of the ridiculous.
Louise Keller

'Hey, whassup Doctor D?' Given the dated racism and colonialism of the original Dr Dolittle books, there's a pungency to this funky remix version with Eddie Murphy, though chauvinist (not to say speciesist) attitudes seem to be more in force than ever. Where the original Dolittle was a sexless English eccentric (like Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who) his Afro-American successor is a proud husband and father with a high media profile and a lucrative career: a patriarch who's young enough to be vigorously potent. But while this alpha male may be master of several domains – professional and personal, animal and human - he has to keep working to maintain his authority, he can't take it for granted. Much of the fun here is in watching Murphy (still a brilliant comedian at the top of his game) juggle his various responsibilities through his hectic, endlessly supple jive: wheedling, teasing, inventing plausible excuses, delivering insults and pep talks in the same breath, high on his own rhythms as if the film's fiction were kept alive solely by the flow of his voice (which is practically true). If the premise puts Murphy at the centre of an imaginary world built up through post-dubbed voices and digital effects, the script tries to counter his macho solipsism with a more democratic message: eventually humans other than the doctor learn to talk to the animals, while the forest creatures are persuaded to take action for themselves, employing Dolittle as a mediator rather than a heroic saviour. Something should be said about the film's terrifically vulgar humour, which may set a new benchmark for gross-out gags in a Hollywood kids' flick. Steve Carr previously directed the Ice Cube comedy Next Friday, and he clearly takes his cues from the disreputable side of black US culture – not only are there endless references to animal bodily functions, but the whole plot is directly about sex (including a comparison between human and animal mating rituals). So is this a film for the whole family? You be the judge – but in its slapdash way it's considerably better and funnier than I expected.
Jake Wilson

Eddie Murphy reprises his hit role as Dr Dolittle in this amiable sequel which is, well, nice but little more. Dr Dolittle 2 doesn’t really take the franchise anywhere, and in terms of characterisation it’s virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor. What it does have going for it are two great comic talents in Murphy and Steve Zahn, and a cast of cute animal actors (both real and animatronic) who more often than not steal the show. Despite the obvious limitations, there’s great chemistry between Murphy and Zahn. The script offers them plenty of zippy one-liners, but not much in the way of depth – although I guess you don’t come to a Dr Dolittle movie for depth. While the plot is engaging enough, it really starts to fall apart in the later stages. Indeed, the ending feels contrived, as if the screenwriters couldn’t work out how to finish the movie without resorting to a heavy-handed excuse for resolution. Director Steve Carr plays the cute animal card at every opportunity, trotting out raccoons, beavers, chameleons and dogs with abandon. Sure, it’s manipulative; but the tactic manages to occasionally raise the film above its plot limitations. Murphy basically plays Murphy (as seems to be his wont these days), but manages to make the Doc an affable, if not inspiring, character. Raven-Symone (another alumna of the earlier film) plays the rebellious teenager with a little too much schmaltz to be completely believable and isn’t well served by the script. Kevin Pollack gets to play a smarmy lawyer again, and has some nice moments. Dr Dolittle 2 is no more than a reworking of the formula which proved successful in the original. So while it’s a mostly pleasant 90 minutes, don’t go along looking for any surprises.
David Edwards

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

DR DOLITTLE 2 (PG)
(US)

CAST: Eddie Murphy, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Irwin, Norm Macdonald

PRODUCERS: John Davis, Joseph Singer

DIRECTOR: Steve Carr

SCRIPT: Hugh Lofting (Doctor Dolittle stories), Larry Levin (written by)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Daryn Okada

EDITOR: Craig Herring

MUSIC: David Newman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: William Sandell

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 2, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: December 12, 2001







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