Doctor Dolittle is a world-renowned veterinarian who speaks a wide array of animal languages. He sets off from his home in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England, in search of the Great Pink Sea Snail. In so doing, he and his friends meet such exotic creatures as the Pushme-Pullyu and the Giant Moon Moth. This musical is the source of the hit song, \"If I Could Talk To The Animals.\"
Rex Harrison ... Dr. John Dolittle
Samantha Eggar ... Emma Fairfax
Anthony Newley ... Matthew Mugg
Richard Attenborough ... Albert Blossom
Peter Bull ... Gen. Bellowes
Muriel Landers ... Mrs. Blossom
William Dix ... Tommy Stubbins
Geoffrey Holder ... William Shakespeare X
Portia Nelson ... Sarah Dolittle
Norma Varden ... Lady Petherington
I know it goes against the general tide to praise this film (the only other place I\'ve ever read a really positive review of it being the back of its own video cover), but I\'m going to do it--and I\'ll even attach my name! For, in my opinion, this musical adaptation by Leslie Bricusse of Hugh Lofting\'s delightful \"Doctor Dolittle\" series succeeds in a great many respects. I was enchanted as a child when I saw it in the cinema, and I still enjoy watching it on video with my own children.
The admittedly meandering plot combines elements from various of the Dolittle books, but it essentially concerns the Victorian veterinarian\'s quest for the Great Pink Sea Snail, an animal whose language he hopes to add to the thousands he has already learned. Thus the first part of the movie takes Dolittle and his friends through several adventures on their way to earning the money to make the journey, while the second finds the entourage actually setting sail (on the aptly-named \"Flounder\") for Sea Star Island and their goal. And, even if the musical *is* so front-end-loaded with big numbers that the second half seems anticlimactic, and even if the resolution of the plot\'s final conflict *is* jarringly abrupt, and even if the film\'s direction *is* a tad slow, it is *also* the case that I find more than enough pleasures along the way to compensate for these shortcomings.
One is Bricusse\'s marvelous score. Besides the Academy Award-winning \"Talk to the Animals,\" he includes two other showcase pieces for star Rex Harrison\'s trademark \"powerful patter\" delivery, the humorous \"Vegetarian\" and the impassioned \"Like Animals.\" Other up-tempo winners are \"I\'ve Never Seen Anything Like It\" (brilliantly put across by Richard Attenborough--the twinkle never leaves his eye!--in what amounts to an extended cameo as wily circus-master Albert Blossom) and \"Faraway Places,\" while tender ballads \"When I look in Your Eyes\" and \"Beautiful Things\" are very affecting. And if \"After Today\" seems to have been pulled from the trunk of another show by mistake, the other Anthony Newly numbers--including \"My Friend the Doctor\" and \"This is the World of Doctor Dolittle\" (as well as the lovely \"Where are the Words,\" which is on my soundtrack album but not in the video)--are spot on.
Another pleasure is the cast. As the Doctor, Harrison is wonderful, of course. The film was originally conceived as a reunion project for him and composing team Lerner & Lowe, who\'d written \"My Fair Lady,\" and it\'s clear that the part was written for the star. But I\'m impressed that eventual Lerner & Lowe stand-in Bricusse, though he was obviously influenced by \"My Fair Lady,\" resisted what had to be the temptation to turn the main character into Henry Higgins--and that Harrison also didn\'t see the gig as a mere Higgins reprise. The charming Doctor--kind to animals, children, and people from all walks of life; educated and capable but somehow sweetly clueless at the same time; gentle but rousable to anger on behalf of his charges--is a different character, and Harrison gets him right.
As for the other leads, Anthony Newly, for once, is perfect as the elfin Matthew Mugg, while child actor and \"whatever-happened-to\" candidate William Dix is a fine if underused Tommy Stubbins. Even Samantha Eggar, in the mis-conceived role of a tentative love-interest for Dolittle, does well with the part she\'s been given. And strong support is provided by the aforementioned Attenborough, Peter Bull as the beefy English squire who is the closest thing to a villain in this piece, and Geoffrey Holder as Willie Shakespeare, head of a quirkily-PC group of island natives encountered during the voyage.
Finally, there\'s the appearance of the film: it\'s beautiful. If you find you can\'t enjoy a musical unless it\'s shot on a soundstage, the wide-open spaces won\'t work for you, but I loved all the wonderful locations.
This is a big movie, long and theatrically-structured (Overture, Act I, Entr\'acte, Act II, and even Exit Music!). They don\'t make them like this anymore--which sounds like a straight line, but I mean it in a regretful way. :-) I recommend \"Doctor Dolittle\" heartily, and I think the family will enjoy it even more if, before you watch it, you read a couple of the original Dolittle books together first!
Highly atmospheric and splendidly acted this film is a pure joy to watch. Legendary actor Rex Harrison give one of his best screen performances as the eracable,lovable Doctor. Anthony Newley gets one of his rare screen appearances and shows just what a talented performer he was.And of course Lord Attenbourgh\'s comic turn as Albert Blossom gives him rare comic opportunity.the score is well done by Leslie Bricusse (Newley\'s long time collaborator.)And the dialogue is sharp and witty. the performance are extremely real for a childeren\'s fantasy film. Its a shame that the Eddie Murphy misfire has taken recognition away from this charming film.
My childhood favorite still holds up! In 1967 I remember sitting in the theater in awe of this tall Englishman that could sing & talk to animals.
As an adult I can sit and enjoy another brilliant performance by the Late Great Sir Rex Harrison (God bless him!), this time as the Good Doctor Dolittle.
Leslie Bricusse has done a wonderful job combining some of the Hugh Lofting tales into a Big Hollywood Musical! I only wish that all the songs made it to the screen. Two were cut, I guess for time (Where are the words?, Something in your smile) but show up on the soundtrack record & CD. Robert Surtee\'s photography is gorgeous! It really should have walked away with an Oscar that year.
Richard Fleischer brings it altogether beautifully. His direction is just the right pace, letting us enjoy all the fantasy that is set in front of us. No quick cuts, loud noises - Hell, everything that audiences today never see. There is nothing wrong with taking time telling a story - I wish the new Hollywood understood that.
The circus number with Sir Richard Attenborough is just as entertaining today as it was in 1967. The Pushmi-Pullyu may not hold up to the digital effects of today but it\'s still just as lovable.
This family film is a treasure and it certainly is more to what Hugh Lofting envisioned compared to the recent Eddie Murphy films.
If you ever have a chance to see this in a Theater - GO!
The DVD has a beautiful transfer - I do wish the DVD had more extras, such as the two songs they cut for the final release. But it should be in the family collection.
Remember it has Rex Harrison in the title role. That alone should give you a reason to see it - If you haven\'t already
* Rex Harrison was under contract to play the title character but after the departure of original scriptwriter and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, Harrison tried to back out of the project. Christopher Plummer was hired as a replacement. When the studio successfully lured Harrison back they paid Plummer his entire agreed-upon fee of $300,000 to sit out the production of the film. Harrison was wary of Leslie Bricusse writing the score since he was an unknown quantity to him and, on his own, had English songwriters Donald Swann and Michael Flanders try their hand at songs for the film. Swann and Flanders signed a contract with Fox in February 1966 and completed at least four songs (Animalitarians/I Won\'t Be King/A Total Vegetarian/Goodbye to Sophie) which Harrison recorded as demos before Harrison heard and approved the Bricusse score for use in the film.
* \"Doctor Dolittle\" grew out of a massive attempt by Twentieth Century-Fox to duplicate its earlier success with The Sound of Music (1965) by producing three expensive, large-scale musicals over a period of three years, Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) being the others. All were released amidst massive pre-release publicity and all lost equally massive amounts of money for the studio. The result was that several top studio executives lost their jobs, and the studio itself went into such dire financial straits that it only produced one picture for the entire calendar year of 1970. In truth, it would never recoup its losses until a highly successful theatrical reissue of \"The Sound of Music\" in early 1973.
* No one expected that shooting a scene with ducks swimming in a pond would be difficult. However, when the ducks were placed onto the pond they sank! Apparently it was the wrong time of year and the ducks had lost their water-repellent feathers and couldn\'t swim.
* This movie set was no picnic:
o One of the fawns snacked on a quart of paint during a scene break and had to have her stomach pumped.
o Gub-Gub the Pig had to be replaced several times during filming since piglets grow so fast.
o Squirrels ate through several key pieces of scenery, costing the crew thousands of dollars in repairs.
o In the scene where Rex Harrison is singing in the field of sheep, he had to be sprayed down repeatedly for flies. Worse, the sheep urinated on him as well, forcing multiple retakes.
o One of the goats broke loose during a scene, got ahold of the director\'s script and ate it.
o The first several weeks of filming were disrupted by torrential downpours - and a homemade bomb, set by a disgruntled member of the town the crew was filming in.
* Nine separate versions of the musical soundtrack were commissioned in several languages, with over a million copies pressed total. Almost none of them sold, which is why to this day the soundtrack turns up in many thrift stores and 99-cent \"cut out\" bins.
* Angered by the filmmakers\' attempts to enlarge a pond in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, UK, for a scene in the movie, Sir Ranulph Fiennes - then a member of 22 Regiment, the \"SAS\" - set charges in the dam they had built (using the Army\'s explosives) and attempted to destroy it. He was arrested, and as a result he was dismissed from the regiment and served out the rest of his military career in the Royal Scots Greys.
* Hugh Griffith was seriously favored for the part played by Richard Attenborough but the production team did not hire him because of his drink problem.
* \"The Reluctant Vegetarian\" number proved to be one of the hardest to film, mainly because of the number of animals that had to sit still for a lengthy period. Hours of rehearsal and preparation went into it before filming actually started. During the first take, it looked like they might actually get it done without any additional shooting but then Rex Harrison stopped singing. Director Richard Fleischer asked him why he stopped, and Harrison said he heard him yell \"Cut!\" Fleischer denied this, and just as they were starting to argue about it, both of them heard a voice yell \"Cut!\" The guilty party turned out to be Polynesia the Parrot, who obviously had heard Fleischer yell this word many times during the production. Harrison took this in good humor, saying, \"That\'s the first time I\'ve ever been directed by a parrot. But she may be right. I probably can do it better.\"
* The film\'s release was accompanied by one of the most massive merchandising tie-in campaigns in Hollywood history. Among the items merchandised were puzzles, a reprint of the original Hugh Lofting series of books by Dell Publishing, children\'s toys (including talking Pushmi-Pullyu and Rex Harrison dolls from Mattel), school supplies, a line of pet foods, and, in a truly bizarre move, small toy figures in each package of \"Shake-a-Pudding\". Additionally, as well as the obligatory soundtrack album, several major artists recorded \"Talk to the Animals\" and other songs from the picture, with star Anthony Newley recording an album of nothing but \"Dolittle\" songs for RCA Victor. Sammy Davis Jr. and Bobby Darin\' also released all \"Dolittle\" albums along with instrumental albums from jazz musicians Joe Bushkin and Gordon Beck.
* John Huston was considered as director, but producer Arthur P. Jacobs nixed him due to his temper. Vincente Minnelli and William Wyler were also considered but Minnelli was felt to be too \"old fashioned\" and Wyler\'s reputation for expensively shooting far too many takes of a scene eliminated them from the running.
* Rex Harrison was frequently bitten by the animals.
* The films U.S. premiere was a benefit for Project HOPE (December 19, 1967) at the Loew\'s State Theatre in New York City. The festivities were the subject of an hour long TV show on WPIX hosted by Barry Gray. After the Chicago premiere at the Michael Todd Theatre (December 20, 1967) the Hollywood opening was held at the Paramount Theatre the following day. The L.A. premiere was a benefit for the Hollywood and Television Relief Fund and Joey Bishop taped his ABC talk show there. Sophie the Seal wearing a diamond necklace, Jip the Dog in a jeweled collar, Gub-Gub the Pig in a sequined harness and Chee-Chee the Chimp in white tie, tails & top hat all appeared at the Hollywood premiere.
* Producer Arthur P. Jacobs originally thought he could interest Sidney Poitier in the role of William Shakespeare X, even going so far as hiring Broadway actor Gilbert Price to provide Poitier\'s singing voice. Poitier wasn\'t interested and in the finished film the character has no songs.