Reviewing some Danny Kaye movie ages ago, critic Pauline Kael remarked that if the manic comedian kept repeating the same shtick, even the kids were going to start sneaking out to the lobby for a smoke. Things have changed so much since she made that quip that one feels it could probably use some footnoting (smoking in the lobby?), but you get the gist — even the easily pleased need a little variety. I was reminded of this while watching Doctor Dolittle 2 at a tot-stuffed matinee, the perfect audience, one would assume, for this combination of whimsy and doo-doo jokes. But aside from the stray giggle arising out of the white noise of continual (and vigorous) candy crunching, the troops remained mostly silent. I think they were bored.
Doctor Dolittle, as you’ll recall, is a veterinarian who one day learns that he can talk to the animals and vice versa. In the sequel Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) has adjusted to his weird gift, though his family remains miffed at the comings and goings of the various creatures, and his 14-year-old daughter (Raven-Symoné) feels neglected.
That’s the subplot. The main one concerns a couple of stock villains, a rapaciously anti-environmental Republican lumber baron (the always reliable Jeffrey Jones) and his evil lawyer (Kevin Pollack), and their efforts to de-forest a ... forest. Dolittle attempts to thwart them by introducing an endangered species into the area, which would make it a protected sanctuary. This involves taking a rare Pacific Northwest male bear (voiced by Steve Zahn), who happens to have been raised as a circus performer, and setting him loose in the woods where, presumably, he’ll mate with his counterpart (voiced by Lisa Kudrow).
But the circus bear, used to the amenities of civilization, is out of his element in the woods. And that’s the main joke of the movie. Maybe the kiddies were quiet because they were busy parsing the various environmental/neglected-family plot strands. Or maybe, like me, they just found the animals’ one-liners mostly stale. The jabbering chameleon, the wise-guy Mafia animals — all flat. The two bears — eh. And I swear, when Norm MacDonald as the family dog launched into another variation of his confident coward routine, I caught a 6-year-old kid down the row from me looking at his watch.
Click here to visit the official Dr. Dolittle 2 Web site.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.