Dir: Steve Carr. US. 2001. 85 mins.
It's been three years since Eddie Murphy and co successfully reinvented Dr Dolittle - the man who talks to the animals - for a modern film audience by using computer effects to allow the animals to talk, cheekily, back. Dr Dolittle 2 efficiently follows the same formula as 1998's $290m-grossing original but makes depressingly little effort to add anything new to the equation. There's probably enough to keep younger kids on school holidays happy, but capturing a broad family audience could prove more of a challenge this time out. International prospects may still be fairly good however, given the movie's amenability to dubbing (the original did more than half of its box office total outside the US).
The sequel's comic potential is limited from the start by the fact that Dr Dolittle's secret is now no longer a secret. In the first film, Murphy got mileage out of the Doctor's struggle to come to terms with his unique gift and his attempts to hide it from colleagues and family. Here, Dolittle is world renowned and constantly pursued by needy animals.
After being summoned to the wilds by a Godfather-like beaver, the Doctor takes on the challenge of saving a California forest from a greedy logging company. Dolittle has to get circus bear Archie (voiced by Zahn, who previously worked on Stuart Little) together with wild bear Ava (Kudrow) so that their offspring can ensure government protection for the animals' forest habitat.
Given the change in premise, Murphy's comic talents get less of a workout than they did in the original. Several other human characters return from the first film, but only Raven-Symone, as Dolittle's moody teenage daughter Charisse, gets much to work with. Rapper Lil' Zane is introduced as Charisse's boyfriend Eric.
According to the film's press notes, the animal characters number more than 250, with most of them being 'played' by real animals. Besides Archie and Ava, the critter cast includes the first film's wise-cracking dog Lucky (voiced by Macdonald) and a Mafioso raccoon (voiced by Michael Rapaport).
The computer effects used to create the animals' lip movements and facial expressions came from effects house Rhythm & Hues, which previously worked on Babe and its sequel (Jim Henson's Creature Shop worked on the first Dolittle film). The effects are certainly impressive, but the technology is not yet good enough to create really funny facial expressions or to match the animation of vocal performances by accomplished comic actors. As a result, what should have been the film's central comedy match-up, between Dr Dolittle and the urbane, slightly camp Archie, never quite takes off.
Prod cos 20th Century Fox, Davis Entertainment
US dist 20th Century Fox
Int'l dist 20th Century Fox
Prod John Davis
Exec prods Neil Machlis, Joe Singer
Scr Larry Levin, based upon the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting
Cinematography Daryn Okada
Prod des William Sandell
Ed Craig P Herring
Music David Newman
Main cast Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wilson, Jeffrey Jones, Kevin Pollak, Raven-Symone, Steve Zahn (voice), Norm Macdonald (voice), Lisa Kudrow (voice).