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Doctor Dolittle
Doctor Dolittle poster
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs
Starring

Rex Harrison
Samantha Eggar
Anthony Newley
Richard Attenborough

Music by Leslie Bricusse
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Editing by Samuel E. Beetley
Marjorie Fowler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release December 19, 1967
Running time 152 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17,015,000
Gross revenue $9,000,000
Followed by Dr. Dolittle

Doctor Dolittle is a 1967 British musical film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and Richard Attenborough. It was adapted by Leslie Bricusse from the novel series by Hugh Lofting. It primarily fuses three of the books "The Story of Doctor Dolittle", "The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle", and "Doctor Dolittle's Circus".

The film had a notoriously protracted production with numerous setbacks along the way such as complications from poorly chosen shooting locations and the numerous technical difficulties inherent with the large number of animals required for the story. The film exceeded its original budget of $6 million by three times, and recouped $9 million upon release in 1967, earning only $6.2 million in theatrical rentals.

The film received generally negative critical reviews, but through the studio's intense lobbying, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won awards for Best Original Song and Best Visual Effects.

A comedy film of a similar title, Dr. Dolittle, loosely based on the character, was later released in 1998.

Plot

During the early Victorian period, in the town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England, Irishman Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) takes his young friend Tommy Stubbins (William Dix) to visit eccentric Doctor John Dolittle. It is Matthew's wish that the Doctor tend to an injured duck Tommy has found and upon arrival, Tommy finds that Dolittle, a former people's physician, lives with a houseful of animals - pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, horses, cows, a chimpanzee named Chee-Chee (Cheeta), a dog named Jip, and a talking parrot named Polynesia (the uncredited voice of Ginny Tyler) among them. The night is stormy, so Tommy and Matthew stay with Dolittle. They find Dolittle blowing bubbles into a fish tank, but says the fish actually think he is yelling at them. Dolittle indicates he is learning how to communicate with snails and fish by first learning the basic fish languages of "halibut, mackerel, and goldfish."

Dolittle tells them, in a flashback, why he first learned to speak animal languages: He was once an established doctor, but he kept so many animals in his home that they causing havoc and made him lose him patients. After a particularly harrowing day, his maid gives him a stark choice, either keep the animals or keep the patients. Because he much preferred the company of animals, a casual comment by Polynesia revealed that animals can talk to each other, prompting Dolittle to study the languages of the animals so that he could become an animal doctor instead. Polynesia informs him that animals will come from all the surrounding areas if he is an animal doctor.

The following day, a short sighted horse named Tubble seeks Dolittle's assistance, but the horse's owner - General Bellowes (Peter Bull) - takes offence to Dolittle's notions of talking animals. Bellowes' niece Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar) chides Dolittle for his irresponsibility and rudeness to her uncle. Dr. Dolittle is unmoved, however, and she storms off in a huff. For Matthew, by contrast, it is love at first sight. He nicknames her Fred on the spot, due to her wishing she were a man with the power to punish Dr. Dolittle. When she has gone, Dolittle admits he also finds her attractive.

A friend of Dolittle's sends him the rare two-headed Tibetan Pushmi-pullyu, a creature that looks like a llama with a head on each end of its body. Matthew, Tommy and Dolittle take the creature to a nearby circus, run by the greedy yet lovable Albert Blossom (Richard Attenborough), who makes the Pushmi-Pullyu the star attraction. The doctor befriends a circus seal named Sophie who longs to return to her husband in the North Pole. He disguises her in women's clothing, sneaks her away, and then throws her into the ocean from some cliffs. However, two fishermen mistake the seal for a woman, and haul Doctor Dolittle off to court for murder. Dolittle is horrified to learn that General Bellowes is the judge but he proves he can converse with animals by talking with Bellowes' dog. Though he is acquitted of murder, the judge and jury agree that Dr. Dolittle belongs in a lunatic asylum. Dolittle's friends break him out of prison, and he, Matthew, Tommy, Polynesia, Chee-Chee and Jip take the doctor's ship, the Flounder, out onto the ocean to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. Emma sneaks aboard as well. After sticking a hatpin at random into an atlas to determine their destination, they set their course for Sea-Star Island, a floating island currently in the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship is torn apart during a fierce storm, but everyone makes it to what turns out to be the Sea-Star Island. Emma had arrived ahead of them, and when she and Dolittle are alone briefly, they admit they have grown to like each other. There is implication Emma has begun to fall in love with him, though the doctor simply respects her cleverness. The party is met by the natives, who are highly educated and cultured due to all the flotsam and jetsam that have floated ashore from shipwrecks over the centuries. Their leader is William Shakespeare the Tenth (Geoffrey Holder): his name comes from the tribe's tradition of naming children after favorite authors. The tropical Sea-Star Island is endangered because it is drifting further north than usual into colder waters. When Dolittle persuades a friendly whale to help push the island south, the vibration causes a balancing rock to drop into a volcano, appearing to fulfill an ancient prophecy that dooms Dolittle and party to be burned at the stake. However, the whale also causes the island to rejoin the mainland, fulfilling another prophecy that dictates that the doctor and his friends be heralded as heroes, and they are freed. While treating the animals on the island, Dolittle encounters a surprise patient - the Great Pink Sea Snail itself, who has caught a severe cold. Dolittle cured him and discovers that the snail's shell is watertight and can carry passengers. Dolittle sends Matthew, Tommy, Emma, Polynesia, Chee-Chee, and Jip back to England with the snail. Emma finally admits her feelings for the Doctor, and kisses him goodbye. She expresses a wish to stay on the island with him and accompany him on his planned voyage to the moon, but the Doctor is adamant that a relationship would never work, though he does wish to stay in touch.

Doctor Dolittle himself cannot go back, since he is still a wanted man; furthermore, he wishes to investigate the natives' stories of the Giant Lunar Moth. As his leave, however, Dolittle finds he is not so impervious to feelings as he thought. Dolittle is still living amongst the tribe when Sophie the seal turns up, accompanied by her husband, with a message: the animals of England have gone on strike without him, the people have changed their views towards him, and even Bellowes has agreed to pardon him if he returns home. Dolittle and the tribesfolk then construct a saddle for the Giant Lunar Moth, and he flies back to England.

Cast

  • Rex Harrison - Doctor John Dolittle
  • Samantha Eggar - Emma Fairfax. Emma is a character manufactured for the film, presumably to add romance.
  • Anthony Newley - Matthew Mugg
  • Richard Attenborough - Albert Blossom
  • Peter Bull - General Bellowes
  • Muriel Landers - Mrs. Blossom
  • William Dix - Tommy Stubbins
  • Geoffrey Holder - William Shakespeare X, leader of the island, based loosely on Prince Bumpo, a character from the books
  • Portia Nelson - Sarah Dolittle, the Doctor's sister
  • Norma Varden - Lady Petherington, an elderly hypocondriac who was one of the Doctor's main patients when he was an MD
  • Ginny Tyler (uncredited) - voice of Polynesia
  • Jack Raine (uncredited) Vicar
Doctor Dolittle films

Doctor DolittleDr. DolittleDr. Dolittle 2Dr. Dolittle 3Tail to the ChiefMillion Dollar Mutts

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