×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Things only adults noticed in Dolittle

In Dolittle, Robert Downey Jr.'s first movie since his big Marvel Cinematic Universe sendoff, the former Iron Man follows in the footsteps of actors Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy as an eccentric physician who also talks to animals, but don't be fooled. This isn't your parents' Dr. Dolittle.

In the latest adaptation of Hugh Lofting's beloved children's novels, the good doctor and his zoo crew head on a world-spanning journey to find the Eden Tree, which produces the only known cure for the illness afflicting the Queen of England. Plenty of fart gags, pop culture nods, and other mature jokes and references cross their paths along the way.

While there's absolutely no doubt that Dolittle is for children — very little ones — a surprising amount of the movie's material is going to go right over its target audience's heads. Thankfully, you don't have to brave a theater full of cackling kids to find out what. We've got more or less everything Dolittle has to offer adults listed right here.

Once again, I am vengeance. Once again, I am the night. Once again, I am Dolittle!

You know who doesn't need a dark, tragic origin story? Doctor Dolittle. You know who got a dark, tragic origin story anyway? Why, Doctor Dolittle, of course.

Dolittle opens with an animated prologue that lays out the whole story: Dolittle and his wife Lily used to travel the world together, making scientific discoveries and healing patients of every species. One day, however, Lily went on an expedition by herself. Her ship was wrecked at sea and she died. Overcome with grief, the doctor closed Dolittle Manor to outside visitors and now lives in solitude, surrounded only by a few of his former animal patients. Now, it's up to a small boy to reignite Dolittle's spark and drag him out of retirement.

Adults who have read the Doctor Dolittle books or seen the previous film adaptations know that's not how the story usually goes. At all. Doctor Dolittle is a whimsical, eccentric character. Making him into Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns isn't just an odd choice, it's downright funny. Dolittle's setup would be much more at home in Downey's superhero flicks than in a kids' film. Young viewers, who will be meeting the character for the first time, won't notice. The rest of us will — and it'll be hard to keep from laughing.

Kids love Marion Cotillard, right?

Dolittle isn't the only kids' movie with a stacked cast. These days, if there's a feature film with voice roles, you're pretty much assured that they'll be filled with A-list stars. Still, even by those standards Dolittle has a lot of vocal cameos — the doctor's menagerie is huge — and some of the casting choices feel a little odd.

Tom Holland as Dolittle's scholarly dog, Jip? Yeah, okay. Holland and Downey Jr. have history together, and Spider-Man is popular with the little ones. John Cena as Yoshi, the group's resident polar bear? That makes sense. But the further down the list you go, the weirder it gets. Do kids really care about The League's Jason Mantzoukas? Will they even recognize The Office and Dolemite Is My Name's Craig Robinson? How many toddlers have even seen A Very Long Engagement, Two Days, One Night, and Inception? Good, then all two of them will be thrilled to hear Marion Cotillard's voice.

Those are all fine actors, but they're very big names for such small roles (Cotillard has maybe three lines in the whole film). They're there for the parents, not the kids. As long as the animals are telling jokes, kids aren't going to care who they sound like.

An offer he probably could've refused

Dolittle's travels take the doctor to an island run by Rassouli, king of the pirates, played by Antonio Banderas. It's a rough place where thieves gather and criminals run amok. The deviancy isn't limited to the island's human residents, either. In Rassouli's kingdom, even the critters are up to no good.

That comes in handy for Dolittle, who needs to break into Rassouli's castle, and who has some contacts among the animal underworld. This comes into play in a scene in which Dolittle and Jason Mantzoukas' dragonfly, James, bargain with an ant who acts like Don Corleone in The Godfather. Like, exactly like Don Corleone. As Dolittle bribes the insect with sugar cubes, the itty-bitty mafioso says something like, "You come to me with this on the day of my daughter's wedding?" It's not particularly subtle.

Of course, that leads to another adults-only gag. It turns out that James and the soon-to-be bride used to date, and the dragonfly wonders what the groom, a scorpion, has that he doesn't. The answer? A great big, um, "stinger." Like we said, not subtle.

Where — and when — are we again?

Early in the film, Dolittle reluctantly leaves the confines of his cozy, cluttered home to venture into the real world. The cause? The Queen of England is deathly ill, and Doctor Dolittle is her very last hope. He hops on the back of his trusty ostrich, Plimpton, and escorts his comrades to Buckingham Palace, where the sickly royal waits.

At least it's supposed to be Buckingham Palace, but it's very clearly not. Now, we don't expect the royal family to open its doors to Universal Pictures. However, the location that production chose as its makeshift Buckingham looks so unlike the real thing that it pulls any Anglophiles in the audience right out of the movie. It's not even close.

The film's timeline is also a little strange, although you'll need to have gotten a little further than your fifth grade history class to notice it. Queen Victoria assumed the throne when she was only 18, and in Dolittle, it's still pretty early in her career. Her treasonous advisor Lord Thomas Badgley calls her a "child queen." Her young age is the whole reason he wants Victoria out of power. And yet somehow, Victoria also gave Dolittle his massive estate years and years ago, well before Lily disappeared and Dolittle became a hermit. The numbers just don't add up — although honestly, that's the least of Dolittle's problems.

That's one tough-talking cephalopod

In Dolittle, the villains have a simple plan: They're going to take over England by killing Queen Victoria, which will leave the door open for Lord Thomas Badgley to swoop in and take control. They're going to do that by slipping poison into Victoria's tea. Just a couple of sips and she'll fall ill. When a solar eclipse arrives a few days later, she'll be dead entirely.

Unfortunately for Badgley and his accomplice, Dr. Blair Müdfly, there was a witness. Victoria has an aquarium in her bedroom, and one of its occupants, a squid, saw the whole thing. When Dolittle arrives to investigate the poisoning, he dunks his head in the fish tank and asks the mollusk what he saw. Thing is, the squid doesn't want to talk. "Snitches get stitches," the creature says, then clams up entirely.

Streetwise adults will absolutely recognize the phrase, which is a common warning in prisons and rougher neighborhoods against collaborating with the police. Hopefully, kids are less familiar with the threat and its violent implications. If they are, well, you might want to consider changing school districts.

A different kind of therapy animal

Every single member of Dolittle's team of misfit animals is dysfunctional in some way, but don't blame them. They come by it honestly. In one of Dolittle's oddest recurring gags, almost every animal in the cast has some form of trauma related to their parents, and it's messed them all up big time.

It's a weird joke, but it does lead to some of the film's funniest lines, including a few that kids won't get. Plimpton the ostrich's parents told him he "should've been an omelette." Barry, the tiger voiced by Ralph Fiennes, has a whole host of issues stemming from his mother's disapproval. No one he eats will ever be good enough for her, he laments, settling down in Dolittle's lap for some psychiatric help. Still, as Barry observes a little later, every parent wants to see their child eat a doctor.

The best — and most mature — joke in the bunch, though, comes from John Cena's Yoshi, a polar bear. As it turns out, Yoshi grew up in a single-family home. His father "went out for a pack of seals" one day and never came home. It's a dark joke, but a good one. Just forget that a group of seals is called a "pod" or a "herd," not a pack. It'll be fine.

Giving the finger without any fingers

Lord Thomas Badgley might be the mastermind, but it's Dr. Blair Müdfly, played with scenery-chewing glee by Good Omens star Michael Sheen, who serves as Dolittle's real villain. It's Müdfly who chases Dolittle around the globe, and it's Müdfly who steals Dolittle's dead wife's journal, which contains the directions to the Eden Tree, sinks Dolittle's ship, and leaves the doctor and his crew stranded.

Dolittle manages to find Müdfly anyway, of course, by enlisting the help of some of his whale friends. When the whales track Müdfly down, they're not shy about letting him know how they feel. The whales surface and begin flapping their fins at Müdfly. The evil doctor thinks they're waving, but that's not really the case. "I can't believe you're flipping him off!" one whale says to the other.

"Flipping him off." Get it? Like giving someone the middle finger? But also because they're using their flippers? Once more: subtle, it ain't.

"The single hardest accent on Earth"

Trying to identify Robert Downey Jr.'s accent in Dolittle? You're not alone. Despite the actor's best efforts, Dolittle's accent is all over the place. Not even the venerated New York Times can figure out what it is.

Adults with very well-trained ears — and a little bit of creativity — might be able to recognize Dolittle's accent as Welsh. At least, that's what Downey was going for. Apparently, while researching the role, Downey came across the story of a 19th century Welsh doctor named William Price, an eccentric man who proclaimed himself a druid and warned others about the dangers of eating meat, marriage, and vaccinations.

Downey decided to base his version of Dolittle on Price, at least in part, Welsh accent included. Of course, there's a reason why you don't hear Welsh accents in movies very often: it's notoriously difficult to do. While Downey promised that "for the running time of the movie, [the accent] will be able to stand up to scrutiny," critics don't seem to agree. Still, that's not just Downey making a silly voice. He's speaking with a real accent — or trying to, at any rate.

Into the void

No, you didn't misinterpret what was going on: Dolittle's main adventure culminates with Robert Downey Jr. sticking his hand up a dragon's butt.

Yes, that's actually in the movie. At the end of Dolittle's journey, he winds up on a mysterious island. All that stands between Dolittle and the Eden Tree is a fire-breathing dragon. Now, Dolittle can speak dragon, but negotiations only get him so far. In order to win the dragon's trust, Dolittle is forced to resort to his medical training. He diagnoses the dragon with indigestion, then grits his teeth, shoves his arm into the beast's anus, and performs an enema.

Downey's accent and the editing muddle the scene (probably in an attempt to keep things moderately family-friendly) so much that kids may not realize exactly what's going on. Adults will, though. The clues are all there. Dolittle's positioning with regards to the dragon. The unexpected, deadly flatulence. The way Dolittle keeps pulling out all of the items the dragon clearly ate, like knight's armor and a set of bagpipes.

There's no way around it. It's an enema. For a dragon. As the climax to a $175 million kids' film produced by a major Hollywood studio. Seriously. We don't know Robert Downey Jr. personally, but right about now, we're guessing that an eventual MCU return is suddenly looking very, very good to him.