If Appellate Judge Tom Becker could talk to the animals, he'd probably quit his day job and become an emperor, or something.
"Did you know that, on average, 74 species a day become extinct?"
Rickie Lee Jones might have called me "a lucky guy," because until now, I'd never suffered through any film or TV program with the name "Dr. Dolittle" in its title. Oh, I'm well aware of the many incarnations of Hugh Lofting's dubiously loveable animal-communicating character, and I have a vaguely repressed childhood memory of being terrorized by a dusty, talking plush version of that two-headed deformity of a llama.
This latest claim in the Dolittle franchise deals not with the doctor—he's away in Antarctica, saving whales, or something—but with his daughter, Maya (Kyla Pratt, who has played this role in three previous Dr. Dolittle efforts).
When Daisy, the U.S. President's dog, starts acting like a bitch, the secret service shows up at the Dolittle home, seeking help. With the doctor away, high school senior Maya—who inherited her father's gift for animal speak—is called into service. Daisy, it seems, is not only a symbol of all that's good about America, but her ability to make nice with the leader of a made-up African nation is somehow crucial to the survival of a rain forest. Unfortunately, the dog insists on acting like a dog—chewing furniture, sneezing on people's legs, and the like—and Maya has just eight days to bring the mongrel to hand.
Rather than going the traditional route—rolled-newspaper and choke chain (shout out to the late Barbara Woodhouse)—Maya decides to try psychology, with decidedly mixed results.
Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief is an innocuous direct-to-video release geared for tweens. It would be easy to dismiss the film as a time-waster, but it actually has a few things going for it:
• There are very few poop jokes in Tail to the Chief.
• There are zero sexual innuendos, even though Maya develops a crush on a cute intern.
• In a subplot, the President's teenage daughter sneaks out of the (White) House and attends a rave, where other teens are drinking and carrying on. Maya and the intern go after her, and the three end up having a good time making ice cream sundaes and acting age-appropriately.
• Simplistic though it might be, there is a worthwhile message about valuing the environment and protecting animals, even those that are not cute and cuddly. The President depicted here is actually an animal activist, with an exotic zoo at his private compound and lots of at-the-ready information about endangered species.
In fact, a fairly sizable chunk of this movie deals with wildlife preservation, and the presentation is simple and direct without being condescending. The scenes at the compound were shot at the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Center, a facility in Canada that rescues, breeds, and then reintroduces endangered animals back into their natural habitats.
As for the non-environmentalist parts of the film, we get silly jokes, cute animals, appealing performances (particularly by Kyla Pratt), and a late-in-the-game nefarious plot that is foiled (by the animals) almost as quickly as it is introduced.
The disc sports a decent picture and audio and about 20 minutes worth of extras, all dealing with animals. One, "Learning About Endangered Animals," offers an interactive map that the viewer can click on using the remote to get information about endangered species in different parts of the world.
Tween movies are a tough game. Most of the ones I've seen present an uncomfortable hybrid of silliness, slapstick, bathroom humor, and sex jokes, and generally lead up to some kind of self-affirming message ("I like me just the way I am").
Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief eschews the bathroom and sex stuff, and while it's almost painfully silly, it has an earnest global message and well serves its intended audience. For children who really like animals, this is a particularly good bet, and the extras, though brief, are informative enough to spur discussion.
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