review for Doctor Dolittle on AllMovie

Doctor Dolittle (1967)
by Craig Butler review

Those who know Doctor Dolittle from the Hugh Lofting books will be surprised to find he acts and sounds rather like Henry Higgins in this vapid, unmelodic musical. In normal circumstances, this characterization would be cause for alarm; however, here Rex Harrison's performance is cause for celebration, as it provides a great deal of entertainment and charm that is otherwise lacking from this overblown production. The creators seem to have gone into the project with the idea that money and a lavish physical production could take the place of an interesting plot, believable characters, entertaining dialogue, tuneful music, and clever lyrics. They were wrong. While the visual side of Dolittle is a treat, the aural side is a mess. Rex Harrison gets through it and triumphs, because he's Rex Harrison, and when he's in good form, can make almost anything work. The rest of the cast is not so fortunate. Samantha Eggar is appealing but really can't do much with the thankless role of Emma, and Anthony Newley and Richard Attenborough are simply annoying. Leslie Bricusse's score is appropriately childlike but totally uninventive and bland. Richard Fleischer's direction is flavorless and often aimless, and portions of the film are unforgivably slow. Still, there's Harrison and some lovely designs -- not enough to make a good movie, but enough to help adults pass the time until the children get bored.