In 2020, after Eddie Murphy, comedian Robert Downey Jr becomes the new face of Dr Dolittle. But by the way, do you know where this doctor like no other who has the ability to speak with animals really comes from?
Dr. Dolittle: a literary character
If Dr. Dolittle is extremely famous within pop culture, initially, this character was invented by the English writer Hugh Lofting. This last, born in 1886publishes, from 1920 to 1952, a series of 12 novels featuring the character of John Dolittle. The latter is a famous doctor in Victorian England, as is also told in the recent film The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role.
As in the various film adaptations, the hero of Hugh Lofting loves animals. He prefers the company of furry, feathered, or scaly creatures to that of human beings. In addition, he has a unique gift: he can understand and talk to animals.
How did Hugh Lofting come up with the idea for Dr. Dolittle?
It is during the World War One that Hugh Lofting got the idea from Dr. Dolittle. Engaged on the front, the writer takes advantage of moments of calm to write letters to his children. It is by observing animals on the battlefield, especially horses and mules, that Hugh Lofting decides to pay tribute to them by inventing a character who would stand on their side in the face of human barbarism.
He then uses this new character in his letters to his children. After the war, the author will explain that he will then develop the character of Dr. Dolittle so that “I can do for these animals what I couldn’t do in real life”. It was by taking up the letters of his children that he decided to write his first novel.
Many film adaptations
On the cinema side, eight films are released over time. The very first spell in 1967 under the direction of Richard Fleischer. Unrecognized adaptation, The Extravagant Doctor Dolittle was extremely faithful to the work of Hugh Lofting. At the time it was Rex Harrison who plays the famous doctor alongside Samantha Eggar, Richard Attenborough and even Peter Bull. This proposal is a musical that even wins the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Then you have to wait 1998 to see Dolittle return under the direction of Betty Thomas. The latter takes great liberties with Hugh Lofting’s novel but popularizes the character with the general public. The adventures of John Dolittle no longer take place in the Victorian era but in our own contemporary society. In front of the camera, he is the actor Eddie Murphy who takes on the roleand which then quickly becomes iconic within pop culture.
Faced with the success of the film, more than $294 million in box office receiptsthe 20th Century Fox decides to produce sequels. Eddie Murphy is back in the skin of the doctor in 2001 on the occasion of Dr. Dolittle 2. Then, from that moment on, it’s a stampede.
The descent into Hell
Eddie Murphy drops out of the role, but Fox produces two more films, centered on Lisa Dolittle, the daughter of John Dolittle. Two sequels, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively, quickly fell into oblivion. Then the license sinks even deeper into limbo with Dr. Dolittle 5 released in 2009 and Miss Dolittle in 2019. But we are not going to dwell on these Z series released directly on DVD internationally.
The franchise is then reborn in 2020 with The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle by Stephen Gaghan. The license gets a makeover and goes back to basics. The feature film decides to follow the origin story of Hugh Lofting and casts Robert Downey Jr as John Dolittle.
Unfortunately, the success is below the expectations of Universal Pictures, since the feature film only brings in $251 million for a substantial budget of 175 million dollars.