It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Doctor Dolittle" is a gross-out movie, yes, and it's going to be criticized by those who can't believe it got a PG-13 rating. Like Eddie Murphy's previous film, "The Nutty Professor," it has a lot of jokes about bodily functions. It breaks some new ground, with a scene where the Murphy character gives the kiss of life to a rat, and when a pigeon makes a low-level bombing run at Oliver Platt's nostrils. And of course there's the scene where the Murphy character, as a little boy, learns from his dog why dogs sniff each other's behinds, and then tries the same tactic in checking out the new school principal.
Is this material a mistake? I don't think so. Kids have a healthy interest in bodily functions, and if you don't believe me, ask Captain Mike, who runs a kiddie playland in Sawyer, Mich., and gives away an amazing number of Whoopee Cushions as prizes. Too many adults have a tendency to confuse bad taste with evil influences; it's hard for them to see that the activities in "Doctor Dolittle," while rude and vulgar, are not violent or anti-social. The movie will not harm anyone, and in the audience I saw it with, lots of parents and kids seemed to be laughing together.
The movie stars Murphy as John Dolittle, who as a child could talk to the animals (there's a gem of an opening scene in which he chats matter-of-factly with his dog, whose voice is by Ellen DeGeneres, about what dogs think about people). The boy grows out of this stage, however, and even goes through an animal-hating phase before he knocks his head in a car accident and regains his inner ear for animals.
By now Murphy is grown up, a famous doctor whose partner (Platt) is in a lather to sell out their medical operation to an HMO. But Murphy gets seriously distracted by his new insights into animals, and on the night of a big business meeting, he's more interested in emergency treatment for an ailing tiger from the zoo. There's also trouble with his despairing family, which has him committed to a mental institution.
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