You would certainly be forgiven if November of 2011’s direct-to-dvd release of Hugh Lofting’s classic tale of human/ animal communication failed to register on your CG feature film radar. Released alongside CG hits Happy Feet 2 and Arthur Christmas, the relatively under-promoted The Voyages of Young Dr. Dolittle got lost in the proverbial sauce as it were.
These days it is easier to encounter thanks to its availability on Netflix and in the RedBox but the question remains- is this the right choice for you and yours? Let’s do our best to find out.
Coming in at a runtime of 80-minutes and wearing a G rating, the film was produced by Burbank California’s Cosmic Toast Studios and distributed by the always hit or miss Phase 4 Films. It features the voice talents of Tim Curry, Jane Seymour, Jason Alexander, & Tom Kenny.
The Voyage of Young Dr. Doolittle tells the story of John Little, the nephew of the famous Dr. Doolitle. John loves animals just as much as his famous uncle does, so when he hears that animals on a secluded island are in danger, he does what any DoLittle would do: He jumps in his uncle’s giant snail submarine and heads off to Doolittle Island to provide aide.
Once on the island, he discovers that Ramsey the Ram and his army of gorillas have taken over and are terrorizing the other animals. Why are they doing this you ask? Who knows for sure. We’re led to understand they’re angry because Dr. Dolittle gave them the ability to communicate amongst one another or something to that effect. It really doesn’t matter because all the viewer needs to know is that the bad guys are bad and the good guys are, well good.
Well first the good news- the visuals, though rather simplistic, are clean and bright. Being a domestic production throughout, character mouth flaps and spoken dialog are perfectly synched. There are some morals and generally encouraging themes scattered about (the theme song explains how an animal can be a person’s best friend for example and the closing narration talks about the value of teamwork and so on).
Now the bad news- anyone mature enough to be unfazed by the cutesy visuals is going to be dragged along on a pretty painful ride. For starters, and as is common in programming geared for youngsters, there is almost no sense of plot to hold the scenes together here. Rather, characters simply do what they do to set up the next scene and the process continues. This results in a runtime that feels unfathomably longer than the actual 80-minutes.
Speaking of, characters themselves, though cute and bubbly, lack any sort of motivation throughout. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the primary villain Ramsey the Ram; who, as far as I can tell, isn’t even sure what he’s angry about. And then there are logistics- Where did John’s uncle get a gigantic hollowed out snail that serves as an international-waters submarine? We’re told Dr. Dolittle taught all of the animals on Dolittle Island to speak English and this is apparent right on down to the insects (we have talking flies and ants) yet why are the gorillas unable to speak? They are portrayed as mindless brutes. Again this may all be nitpicking by an individual well beyond the intended demographic but you can blame Pixar and DreamWorks if you must. They prove time and time again that there is a balance that can be struck between visually appealing storytelling for the kids and clever plot structure that keeps adults enthralled as well.
As it stands, The Voyage of Young Dr. Doolittle can only be recommended to the young or very easily amused. A few witty lines throughout strengthen my theory that the source material is charming enough to have warranted a treatment by the folks at Disney, Sony ImageWorks, Blue Sky and so on. This one was clearly designed just to keep the small fry amused; and it does succeed there.
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