**/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B-
starring Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, Jeffrey Jones, Kevin Pollak
screenplay by Larry Levin
directed by Steve Carr
by Bill Chambers There comes a day when you can no longer revile a bad movie with any urgency, because another one's going to come along regardless, sure as the sun sets. So it goes with Dr. Dolittle 2, a sequel to a movie I've never seen that is in and of itself a "reimagining" of another movie I've never seen, which in and of itself was based on a series of Hugh Lofting stories I've never read. And not a second of Dr. Dolittle 2 inspired me to retrace its steps (this is the story of Dolittle, not "do lots"), but to call Dr. Dolittle 2 uninspired because it does not inspire would be to tell a half-truth. Certainly the special effects, designed by the wizards at Rhythm and Hues, reach a new plateau of believability for talking-animal CGI, and, computer-animation aside, the 2001 film has a distinctive, endearing Eighties flavour that's unique to this era. I mean, it's about evil land developers!
The world has apparently accepted veterinarian John Dolittle's heightened powers of communication with the animal kingdom. He is now, rather than avoided, busy as a beaver--though not, perhaps, the one who beckons him to the river via his hench-racoon. (The movie mixes homages with some success: as a Corleone-style confab commences, a squirrel remarks, "Gotta go get the acorns get the acorns," a nice stream-of-consciousness reference to Goodfellas.) Pepito, The God-beaver, has heard through his "Bay Area contacts" that Dolittle is the best person to help save their trees from clear-cutting, because he might just be able to talk the forest's lone Pacific West grizzly into mating with an outsider bear, one raised in captivity: Due to the endangerment of the species, Pacific West cubs would bureaucratically entitle the wildlife to the woodlands.
Now, according to the mythology of the first film, just as Dolittle and only Dolittle can understand what the critters are saying, they hear gobbledygook from anyone but him. So how did word of their home's fate get back to them? And why won't the Lisa Kudrow-voiced Ava give Archie the circus ursine (Steve Zahn) the go-ahead to knock her up after Dolittle warns that she's facing eviction? The cohabitation of wild and tame animals may defy a law of nature, but since Ava's rejection of Archie is hardly the stuff of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (Ava thinks Archie lacks machismo), why won't she listen to human reason? Really, the conundrum is that she's too human, bound to the puritan standards of Hollywood cinema.
Am I really second-guessing the plot of Dr. Dolittle 2? Yes, but understand that a movie makes its own logic: Dr. Dolittle can talk with the animals etc., and while that's a pretty flexible premise, it's apparently not bendy enough. The makers of 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace forgot that human beings require oxygen to breathe, thus a climax in which two female Earthlings were swept up into outer space without the benefit of space suits, helmets, or air tanks...and lived. Yet, if we can call Dr. Dolittle 2 charming, it might be because of this retro disregard for complex obstacles. It takes the path of least resistance through the material, which is why, along with Archie's jokes, it's pretty easy to watch, if profoundly unfulfilling.
Dr. Dolittle 2 is available on a relatively kid-friendly Special Edition DVD. The 2.35:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer preserves the filmmakers' aspect ratio of choice, defying the recent trend of reformatting family entertainment to fill the screen. (The research claims that children hate letterboxing are unsupported--wrong, in fact: kids focus on the image, not its periphery. Uneducated parents, spoon-fed cropped VHS presentations throughout their youth, are responsible for the recent full-frame surge in DVD.) Dr. Dolittle doesn't look flawless--there's a bit more grain than one anticipates (which also contributes to that Eighties vibe), especially in an "Animals Unite!" montage that appears to be 90% stock footage. Contrast and saturation are above par, though. Meanwhile, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has some oomph to it due to a selection of bass-heavy soundtrack songs, but split-surround activity (where Murphy's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps soared) is surprisingly wan for a live-action Looney Tune.
The Special Features sub-menu offers up about a dozen extras, starting with a commentary by director Steve Carr and co-producer Heidi Santelli, cryptically referred to as "also my partner." Carr has a Porky Pig thing going on, frequently giving up after briefly struggling to remember/pronounce the names of major cast members (well, cast members with major reputations)--Reni Santoni becomes "Reni uh...Reni uh...anyway, he was in Bad Boys, the original with Sean Penn." He overcompensates by calling everybody the "coolest" or the "sweetest," and if you're really special, "the coolest, the sweetest." After forty-five minutes of this, he has the nerve to scoff at Santelli's criticism of a character's grammar. Although we learn a little (how difficult it was to keep the film's scatological content within the PG rating's boundaries, for instance), it's a dud track.
"The Making of Dr. Dolittle 2" eulogizes Eddie Murphy's career--unearthing the cleanest clips from Delirious, skipping Harlem Nights altogether--before moving on to a behind-the-scenes look at Dr. Dolittle 2. The most interesting portion is on the F/X; more on this below. "Extended Scenes" includes more of the jailhouse sequence (w/optional Carr/Santelli commentary; he describes Dolittle visiting Archie behind bars as "heavy drama") and extraneous contract negotiations. "Bear Necessities: A Kids Guide to Grizzlies", hosted by Mike Dee of the Los Angeles Zoo, is recommended for all ages. As I wasn't one of the suckers who bought into the D.O.A. NUON technology, I have no idea what the "NUON Enhanced Features" entail.
Onto a second page of extras: "Making Movie Magic with Rhythm and Hues" ellaborates on a portion of the making-of as Doug Smith and Gary Nolan provide commentary over an eye-opening compositing and animation demonstration. (I hope that Rhythm and Hues is remembered during the Oscar voting season.) "Cluck Cluck" is a typically overexposed/oversaturated music video from The Product G&B, featuring Wyclef, while "Wild on the Set with Tank the Bear" is an Animal Planet production about Archie and his trainer, the renowned Doug Seus. Rounding out the disc are a "Music Promo Spot," two theatrical trailers, twelve (!) TV spots, and a terrific, and a short film-in-itself trailer (that, sadly (and you'll understand why sadly), is not in 5.1) for Ice Age, Fox's upcoming foray into computer animation. Originally published: October 15, 2001.