This week, Indian cinemas will see Robert Downey Jr take on the much-loved character of Dr Dolittle, the eccentric veterinarian who can speak to animals. This reboot, titled Dolittle, directed by Stephen Gaghan, and written by Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, will also see Antonio Banderas play a key role with Tom Holland and Kumail Nanjiani lending their voices.
“This is the most magical film we’ve ever done, and that’s saying something,” says Downey Jr. “It’s always a miracle when things that have so many moving parts come together and equal something entertaining. My missus said it does have that appeal from (ages) 4 to 94. So, it’s a mission accomplished with Team Downey,” he explains.
The actor, who was last seen in Avengers: Endgame, quips that his dad would like the subversive humour in the new Dr Dolittle. “For this generation of kids, sometimes things are rendered to the point of being shockingly photorealistic, or they’re almost two-dimensional in how animated they are. This reminds me more of the kind of movies we had when we were growing up — like Fantasia and Mary Poppins — where there was a mix of both. I feel like Dolittle nails the visual flavor,” he adds.
In this version, the much-loved veterinarian will be a Welshman, which was Downey’s choice. “I thought about the character as someone who has become a hermit and isolated himself due to trauma or emotional disappointment,” reasons Downey. “He’s taken it upon himself to help animals only; he’s really given up on humanity. He secreted himself to this estate that was gifted him by the queen. I thought it’d be even better if he’s Welsh because, even though the Welsh are part of England, they give the English a lot of guff.”
That creative choice, however, presented some unforeseen challenges. “It turned out to be the single hardest accent on Earth and drove me crazy,” laughs Downey. “At least for the running time of the movie, it will be able to stand up to scrutiny. It’s close to a Gaelic-origin language, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Michael Sheen was very much a proponent, and he gave me some tips. He told me about conversations he’d have with his dad, so I taped Michael a lot when we were doing it and I brought in a Welsh coach.”
Downey worked with dialogue coach Andrew Jack and Welsh consultant Tim Treloar, who were both on set during filming. Downey and Jack and worked together several times over their careers. “RDJ and I thought that Chaplin was the preparation for our work on Restoration and both Sherlock Holmes films,” Andrew Jack says. “But then Dolittle moved the goalposts and we ended up in Welsh Wales. But true to form, that wasn’t a hurdle; it was a delight.”