Dr. Dolittle 2
Screenplay : Larry Levin (based on the "Doctor Dolittle" stories by Hugh Lofting)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Eddie Murphy (Dr. John Dolittle), Kristen Wilson (Lisa Dolittle), Raven-Symone (Charisse Dolittle), Jeffrey Jones (Joseph Potter), Kevin Pollak (Jack Riley), Kyla Pratt (Maya Dolittle), Lil' Zane (Eric)
Dr. Dolittle 2 is much like its 1998 predecessor, in that it is enjoyably silly, though not particularly inventive, and it is clean enough for most kids (I don't think there was a single curse word in the whole movie), with just enough bowel-movement and intestinal-related raunch included to keep little ones giggling. There is also an obvious, good-hearted message, this time related both to the need to protect the environment and the importance of family.
Eddie Murphy reprises his role as the titular doctor who can communicate with animals. The story involves Dolittle's attempts to save a section of northern-California forest that is slated to be cut down by a mean-spirited industrialist named Joseph Potter (Jeffrey Jones). This part of the forest is run by a caricatured Mafioso-like beaver (Richard C. Sarafian), who sends his minion, a tough-talking raccoon named Joey, to recruit Dolittle to help them. Joey is by far the funniest animal in the movie because Michael Rapaport, whose does the voice, is so clearly not associated with these kinds of stereotyped roles that he makes Joey sound like a raccoon trying to imitate a wiseguy, rather than a raccoon who actually is a wiseguy (this is the same reason Rapaport was so perfectly cast as the trash-talking TV executive in Spike Lee's Bamboozled.
Dolittle is reluctant to help at first because he doesn't know what he can do, but he soon discovers that the forest is the habitat of a female Pacific Western bear, which is an endangered species. The only problem is that she is the only Pacific Western bear in the forest, thus Potter's lawyer (Kevin Pollak) has successfully argued that the forest shouldn't preserved on her account because she can't reproduce anyway.
Dolittle enlists the help of his wife, Lisa (Kristen Wilson), who is a lawyer, to argue in court that the judge should postpone the cutting of the forest because Dolittle is going to do something that has never been done before: reintroduce a captive bear into the wild. Dolittle finds out of that there is a male Pacific Western bear, but he has lived his entire life in circus captivity. So, the somewhat labored reasoning goes, if Dolittle can get this bear back into the forest and have him mate with the female bear, then the forest cannot be cut down.
So, the majority of the narrative deals with Dolittle's attempts to train Archie (Steve Zahn), the circus bear, to live in the wild, something he has never done before. This naturally requires lessons in fishing, hibernating, and how to be an alpha male, because the female bear, Ava (Lisa Kudrow), is looking for someone who will protect and provide for her. Archie has been coddled by humans all his life and trained to perform tricks (which, unfortunately, includes singing Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," which has become the most overused song in movies in the last few years). Thus, he is an utter wimp who must be toughened up if he will ever survive (one of his first comments in the forest is how dirty it is).
Dr. Dolittle 2 features the return of a few of the animal characters from the first movie (although Chris Rock's hilarious guinea pig is missed), including Dolittle's laid-back dog, Lucky (Norm Macdonald), who also serves as the narrator. New animals include a Mexican chameleon named Pepito (Jacob Vargas), who isn't as good at changing colors as he thinks he is, and a weasel named Lennie (Andy Dick), who witnesses Potter's lawyer trying to sabotage Archie's re-acclimation to the wilderness. (There are also a few characters voiced in amusing uncredited surprise cameos.) Once again, the digital effects and animatronics used to bring the animals to life are nearly flawless, convincingly showing us live animals speaking and making human-like facial expressions.
Eddie Murphy, the once-vulgar comedian, again finds himself playing it clean as the straight man reacting to a cast of four-legged and otherwise costars. He does have a few moments where he can shine on his own in scenes with his 16-year-old daughter, Charisse (Raven-Symone), who is understandably embarrassed that her dad talks to animals; hence, she lashes out as insecure teenagers will do. She has also started dating recently, which means that she has a new boyfriend, Eric (rapper Lil' Zane), who Dolittle doesn't like for a variety of reasons, including Eric's ultra laid-back posturing and the fact that he refers to Dolittle as "Pops."
Returning screenwriter Larry Levin manages to keep a smile on your face for most of the movie, but he doesn't manage to come up with any truly outrageous or hilarious moments. He comes close near the end when the all the animals in the world organize and strike, which wreaks havoc for everyone, from Shamu's trainers at Sea World, to jockeys at the horse track, to dog owners in Central Park. The moments of gross-out bathroom humor are kept to a minimum and relegated to dialogue and nasty sound effects--they seem to be included not so much because Levin thinks they're funny, but because a certain set of the audience will simply expect them.
Because people probably won't be expecting too much from Dr. Dolittle 2, few will be disappointed with it. It's funny and light-hearted enough to pass for an innocuous afternoon of entertainment, although those who still yearn for Murphy's hard-edged past days of raucous comedy routines and R-rated movies might find themselves shaking their heads at his increasing softness.
©2001 James Kendrick