The Doctor is in again.
Oh my goodness. Axel Foley grew up and had kids.
Facts of the Case
Once again we return to the adventures of Dr. John Dolittle (Eddie Murphy—Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, Trading Places), the man who can talk to the animals. By now an international celebrity due to his unique gift, Dr. Dolittle finds that his travels to help the animals of the world force him to spend more and more time away from his family. This is particularly problematic since his oldest daughter Charisse (Raven-Symone—The Little Rascals, Dr. Dolittle) is at a difficult age—she is turning sixteen, and is embarrassed by her father's freakish ability to talk to animals. She is also beginning to date and have a social life, which Dr. Dolittle finds very disturbing.
During Charisse's sixteenth birthday party, a possum and a raccoon who have ventured to his San Francisco apartment from the woods interrupt Dr. Dolittle. They request that he make a special trip to the woods to see the "Godbeaver," a mysterious forest dweller who is "blessed with many friends." The Godbeaver (voice of Richard Sarafian) tells Dr. Dolittle that he needs a small favor—it seems that a logging company is going to cut down the entire forest, and it seems that Dolittle is the only man who the animals think can help them.
Dolittle sets out to find a way to stop the logging company. His wife Lisa (Kristen Wilson—Dr. Dolittle, Dungeons And Dragons) is a lawyer, and suggests that the easiest and probably only way to stop the logging would be to find an endangered species in the woods. The good news is that there is an endangered species: a lone Pacific Western bear named Ava (voice of Lisa Kudrow—Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Friends). The bad news is that she is the only one there, so there is no chance for survival of the species anyway. Dolittle's plan is to find a male Pacific Western bear and bring him to the forest so that the two bears can do what bears do and guarantee the survival of the species.
Fortunately, Dolittle finds a male Pacific Western bear. Unfortunately, he is Archie (voice of Steve Zahn—Saving Silverman, That Thing You Do), a trained circus bear who has spent his entire life in captivity. In order to acclimate him to the wild, Dolittle must teach him the ways of nature and how to act like a real bear.
And so the race is on. Dr. Dolittle has one month to acclimate Archie to the wild and ensure that romantic sparks fly between him and Ava. In the meantime he has to keep an eye on Charisse and her boyfriend Eric (Lil' Zane—Finding Forrester). He also has to watch his back for the dirty tricks of logging executive Mr. Potter (Jeffrey Jones—Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Hunt For Red October) and his lackey/lawyer Riley (Kevin Pollak—The Whole Nine Yards, A Few Good Men, Grumpy Old Men).
I liked Dr. Dolittle 2 a lot more than I expected. I had forgotten how joyous an experience it can be to watch an Eddie Murphy comedic performance. Murphy is his highly energized self here, and it is great fun to watch him handle domestic life as a combination of Axel Foley and the donkey from Shrek.
And for the most part, he has pretty good material to work with. The story may be a bit trite, and there are some standard-issue father/daughter disputes to resolve, but it is mostly well written enough that we don't mind. Actually, Dolittle's disputes with Charisse are some of Murphy's best moments in the movie. There is also a dramatic coming-of-age revelation about Charisse that is handled with a lot more subtlety and sensitivity than you might expect. I fell for it at any rate, and found it rather touching.
The rest of the human cast does a fine job as well. Jeffrey Jones is always fun to watch; he's mostly been playing variations on Mr. Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the last 15 years, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Kevin Pollak does a great job here as well. Pollak is probably one of the most underappreciated actors in the movies right now, and he never fails to turn in a good performance, no matter what material he is given to work with.
The voice talent for the animal characters is good as well. Steve Zahn makes Archie the Bear a hilarious character, shy and nervous and pampered and not at all enthralled with the idea of returning to nature. Lisa Kudrow does a passable job as Ava, but really doesn't give us anything more than her patented "Phoebe" personality and intonations.
Picture quality on this DVD from Fox leaves a lot to be desired. The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and at first glance looks sharp and clear, but on closer examination is full of digital artifacting, blurring of fine textures, and some of the most pronounced edge enhancement I've seen from a major studio in quite some time. The halos are terrible, unless Eddie Murphy recently qualified for sainthood without my knowing. The audio mix is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It is for the most part a typical "Comedy 5.1" mix, very front-oriented except for the soundtrack songs that blast through all surround channels. There is some use of surround channels for nature sounds and other atmospheric effects, but nothing to write home about.
Fox has seen fit to release Dr. Dolittle 2 as a special edition. This disc is nicely stocked with a variety of special features for your approval. There is a standard-issue HBO "Making of" featurette, running for about 25 minutes. The interesting thing about this feature is the amount of time it spends in "Eddie Murphy Retrospective" mode, which brought back a lot of great memories of his earlier work. Other than that, it was the standard collection of talking heads and short glimpses of behind-the-scenes footage, with actors coming on camera to give the usual spiel about who their character is and what they are like, and so forth.
Also included are two extended scenes, one of which is available with optional commentary. These are fairly pointless and it was a good move to cut them. There is also a music video for "Cluck Cluck" by The Product G&B featuring Wyclef. Along with this selection there is a short promo clip for the Dr. Dolittle 2 soundtrack CD. Two theatrical trailers are included, as well as twelve TV spots and a trailer for Fox's upcoming Ice Age, a CGI-animated comedy that looks fairly interesting.
There are two nature related documentaries on this DVD. The first is entitled "The Bear Necessities—A Kid's Guide to Grizzlies." At about 8 minutes 20 seconds it is rather short, but it does include some interesting info about bears. In an unfortunate development, it is also interrupted halfway through by a commercial. The second and much better documentary is an episode of Animal Planet's "Wild on the Set" featuring Tank the Bear, who appears in the movie as Archie. This was an interesting look at the challenges involved in training a bear for movie work, and spent a lot of time focusing on trainer Doug Seus. Seus is best known for his work with Bart the Bear in several different movies.
The extra content is rounded out by a solid collection of behind-the-scenes features. There is a special effects featurette entitled "Making Movie Magic with Rhythm and Hues" which is a very interesting look at the CGI processes necessary to make animals look as though they are actually talking. [Editor's Note: For those of you who don't know, Rhythm and Hues also did talking-animal effects for Babe and Stuart Little.] There are five storyboard sequences showing the initial storyboards alongside segments from the finished movie; these are also quite fascinating and give some important insight into the planning process. I was also quite surprised by the number of scenes that were storyboarded when it didn't seem like it would have been necessary. There is also a commentary track featuring director Steve Carr and co-producer Heidi Santelli. While I am a big fan of interesting, informative commentary tracks, I am sorry to report that this is not one of those. As commentary tracks go this one is fairly lame and uninteresting as the two commentators ramble on without giving any real insight into the making of the movie.
Oh, I almost forgot. This disc also has "Nuon-enhanced features." As My DVD player is not equipped with this particular gimmick, I cannot evaluate those for you. Darn the luck.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My biggest complaint with this movie is the excessive reliance on bathroom humor. There are butt, poop, and fart jokes coming out the…well, you get the idea. If you are old enough to remember Eddie Murphy's Raw, you will remember a hilarious bit that he used to do where he made fun of himself as a kid trying to impersonate Richard Pryor. The bit seemed to imply that he had moved on to bigger and better material when he grew up, but unfortunately it appears that he has come full circle.
There are a few minor problems with the movie as well. There is an ongoing play-by-play narration from Dolittle's dog lucky, voiced by Norm MacDonald (Saturday Night Live). Norm MacDonald is annoying enough to listen to in real life, but this pointless and inane narration took it to a whole new level.
Finally, I need to state once again my very dim view of including commercial sponsors in the middle of an extra features documentary aimed at kids. Perhaps this has become common practice and I just missed it up until now, but I think the DVD buying public pays enough for their discs that we should not be subjected to completely non-movie related advertising.
A few minor problems aside, I liked Dr. Dolittle 2. Sure, there were too many bathroom jokes, but apart from that, this is a good-natured family comedy, and should be a pleasant movie for all ages to see. Besides, any movie featuring an appearance by Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin has to be good, right?
Dr. Dolittle 2 is free to go and continue serving the little creatures of the forest. Fox Home Video is acquitted on the strength of a special edition jam-packed with extra content, but I wish they would have expended a little effort on the audio and video presentation.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• HBO's "The Making of Dr. Dolittle 2"
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