Fox // 2009 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 19th, 2009
Lucky goes to Hollywood!
In 1998, Eddie Murphy starred in Dr. Dolittle, a sassy, family-friendly, non-musical remake of the 1967 Rex Harrison musical or an incredibly loose adaptation of the series of children's books by Hugh Lofting, depending on how you look at it. The movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel, which was in turn successful enough to spawn a series of direct-to-DVD sequels in which Murphy's famed animal talker was replaced by his teenage daughter Maya (Kyla Pratt, Fat Albert). Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts is the fifth film in the franchise and the third of Maya's direct-to-DVD adventures.
Gifted with her father's ability to speak to animals, Maya Dolittle (Pratt) is off to San Francisco University to study veterinary medicine. Her school year is interrupted when news coverage of her rescuing a cat from a tree catches the attention of spoiled heiress Tiffany Monaco (Tegan Moss, The Eye), who needs help with her neurotic pooch Princess. Maya and her beloved dog Lucky (voiced by Norm McDonald, Saturday Night Live) zip off to Hollywood, where Monaco's slimy agent (Jason Bryden, Snow Buddies) decides to cash in on the girl's talent. The promise of fame and wealth, as well as Maya's budding romance with TV star Brandon Turner (Brandon Jay McLaren, She's the Man), makes the prospect of seven long years of veterinary school far less attractive. Will Maya give up her dream of helping animals for overnight success?
The moral of Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts' story is so confused that it can't even be forgiven on the grounds that the movie is essentially a live-action cartoon. The flick's message to the current generation of tween girls is that one's dreams should be pursued with a maximum of amoral self-interest. If said pursuit results in a trail of human misery in your wake, well, at least you're happy. Maya's frustration with the notion that it will take her more than a few weeks to learn veterinary medicine leads her to bag her long-held dream in favor of playing co-host to a Paris Hilton clone on a tacky TV show. By the time she comes to recognize the value of patiently pursuing her original goal, she's on the set of her show, shooting its first episode. We can thus infer that her last-minute change of heart puts an entire crew of entertainment industry folks as well as a bunch of Teamsters out of work. Dozens of families surely suffer, but that's okay because Maya learned a valuable life lesson, and she is, after all, the center of the entire universe, right?
Okay, subjecting a tween romantic fantasy to that sort of rigorous analysis is admittedly ridiculous (yet still fun). Viewed purely as a piece of escapist entertainment for 9- to 12-year-old girls, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutt is still no High School Musical, but it does offer an attractive cast (including the requisite cute guy), fresh fashion, mother-daughter conflicts, and a bevy of smart-alecky animals that speak via CG-enhanced mouths. Kyla Pratt (who played Murphy's daughter in the two theatrical features) is a surprisingly capable lead, avoiding the broad and wide-eyed over-acting, stale line reads, and poor comic timing that generally plague performances in this genre. Brandon Jay McLaren plays well opposite Pratt, though their chaste pseudo-romance lacks any real chemistry. McLaren's hunk is a sensible and decent guy likely to appeal as much to the movie's target audience of young girls as to their parents. But competent lead performances aren't enough to elevate the movie from its hokey genre limitations. Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollard Mutts may appeal to tween girls, but everyone else is guaranteed to experience a mix of boredom and loathing.
Because Fox provided a DVD-R screener copy of the movie for this review, I am unable to provide a proper assessment of the video quality. It's probably safe to assume that the final product won't sport the weak detail, slightly overblown colors, and rampant compression artifacts that mar the screener, but caveat emptor. The audio mix is a clean but boring Dolby 5.1 mix.
In addition to the feature, the disc houses a small collection of supplements. Tiffany's Tricked Out Cell Phone contains a trio of production featurettes. In "Fashionable Pets," costume designer Lorraine Carson, talks about the challenge of designing clothes for animals. Carson returns for "Fashionable People," a featurette about the costumes for the human actors. "Storyboards" is a brief animated comparison between the movie's storyboards and final shots. No Business Like Show Business (7:56) is an electronic press kit for the film. Star Tours: Dolittle Style (5:08) is a tour of the movie's sets.
By tween pic standards, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts is mediocre; by general standards, it's downright awful.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG