After the success of one special effects intensive sequel with 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Eddie Murphy didn’t exactly go for broke in his next live action flick. Instead, he went back for more sequel action with Dr. Dolittle 2, the second adventure in a series that started with 1998’s Dr. Dolittle.
I can’t blame him for this approach since it seems to work for Murphy. Neither Klumps nor Dolittle 2 equaled the success of their predecessors, but they came reasonably close. The $123 million gross of Klumps came within $5 million of the original flick’s take, so both were quite similar. Dolittle 2 showed a more significant decline; after the first film made $144 million, the sequel dropped to $112 million. Still, that was a respectable total, and it should be noted that 2001 was a much more competitive summer than was 1998.
(By the way, one will note the necessity of that “live action” disclaimer, since another Murphy project appeared between Klumps and Dolittle 2: the animated comedy Shrek. With a current take of $263 million (as of September 25 2001), it stands a strong shot of being the year’s top-grossing movie.)
While Klumps upped the ante over the first Nutty, I didn’t feel the same way about Dolittle 2. In Klumps, special effects technologies were pushed to allow Murphy to consistently interact with himself, and the result was a real tour de force. While I’m sure the computer-altered animals in Dolittle 2 improve upon those seen in the original, it doesn’t appear to present the same leap. Instead, Dolittle 2 seems like more of the same.
Which may be fine for those who enjoyed the first film. Personally, I thought it was moderately entertaining at best, and the same feelings occurred as I watched Dolittle 2. One nice - though fairly unexplored - aspect of the sequel relates to the fame of the good doctor. Since his ability to talk to animals was revealed to the public in the first movie, he’s become a star, and his doctorial dance card is totally full. Though his practice may thrive, clearly his personal relationships suffer, as his wife Lisa (Kristen Wilson) feels neglected and oldest daughter Charisse (Raven-Symone) has become totally alienated.
Despite these familial issues, Dolittle 2 isn’t about interpersonal concerns; we want talking animals and lots of them! As such, the movie’s main plot relates to a wilderness area endangered by a foresting company. The domain could be saved as the last residence of the Pacific Western bear, but since apparently only a female remains, the species is doomed anyway, so it looks like the baddies will prevail.
However, a domesticated male is found as a sideshow performer. Wild and tame animals don’t usually mix, but with the help of Dolittle, animal hopes are high that he’ll be able to bridge the gap. As such, he tries to make Archie (voiced by Steve Zahn) into the bear of Ava’s (Lisa Kudrow) dreams.
Much fairly predictable material ensues. The film mixes very low-brow comedy - such as a scene in which Archie has the runs and Dolittle’s stuck in the toilet with him - and some slightly more sophisticated elements, but make no mistake; the emphasis is on kid-oriented wackiness; if any adults enjoy it too, that’s great, but they don’t make up the target audience.
On the positive side, I thought Murphy showed more character here than in the first film. Since the movie mainly showcases the furry beasts, the doctor stood the possibility of getting lost in his own film, and that occasionally happened to Murphy during the first outing. It still occurs here as well, but not to as heavy a degree. Murphy holds up well against the animal onslaught and helps ground the movie nicely.
I was also fairly impressed by the animal effects themselves. When I saw a similar summer 2001 flick called Cats and Dogs, I virtually never bought the visuals; they looked phony and I couldn’t suspend disbelief. During Dolittle 2, however, I felt that many more shots worked than didn’t. Sure, some of the animal expressions fell flat and looked artificial, but most of the material seemed to be surprisingly believable. The elements all integrated quite well, and I was somewhat astonished to learn how many different parts had to be connected. The effects people deserve a lot of credit for the film’s success.
Despite Murphy’s engaging presence and solid visuals, Dolittle 2 never became anything special, mainly because it’s just a bland story. The tale doesn’t introduce much that’s new or fresh, and the majority of the animal humor seems stale. Ultimately, I thought Dr. Dolittle 2 was periodically engaging, but as a whole it felt watchable but lackluster.
Dr. Dolittle 2 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although much of the movie looked very strong, it featured enough concerns to be weaker than expected for a brand-new film.
Sharpness offered one of the disc’s strongest aspects, as the movie almost always looked exceedingly crisp and detailed. Some wider shots presented a slightly fuzzy image, but for the most part, the picture seemed to be distinct and well defined. I discerned no moiré effects or jagged edges, but edge enhancement caused some noticeable concerns. Quite a lot of ringing could be seen at times throughout the movie. I never felt it looked terribly heavy, but the halos became a definite distraction.
Print flaws also appeared more significant than I expected from a three-month-old film. Some light grain showed up in a number of shots, and I also saw examples of some speckles and grit. To be fair, I think most of those problems occurred due to the visual effects; the combination of elements added to the potential for defects. Nonetheless, I thought the movie seemed dirtier than normal.
More positive were the colors of Dolittle 2. The mix of natural settings and animals led to a nicely broad and varied palette, and the DVD replicated these tones nicely. Hues always looked natural and accurate, and some very vivid colors appeared along the way. Black levels also seemed to be deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately clear but not excessively opaque. Many films that feature black actors suffer from overly dim low-light shots in which the performers essentially disappear, but that wasn’t a concern with this flick. Ultimately, Dr. Dolittle 2 remained watchable at all times, and a lot of the movie looked great, but a mix of concerns caused me to lower my grade to a “B-“; the image simply far too many problems for such a recent flick.
While generally decent, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Dr. Dolittle 2 also contained a surprising number of issues. The soundfield seemed heavily oriented toward the front, but it seemed to be fairly engaging nonetheless. The forward channels presented a reasonably clean and engaging atmosphere, as the audio created a believable sound space. The music showed good stereo presence, and elements moved smoothly across the forward spectrum as they blended together neatly.
Surround usage appeared fairly minor. For the most part, the rear speakers provided little more than reinforcement of the forward image. On a few occasions, the surrounds jumped to life. For example, whenever Eric would appear, the loud rap music in his car took over the mix, and some scenes that involved bees also provided a nice five-channel experience. Otherwise, the track stayed strongly anchored within the front.
In my opinion, that sort of soundfield seemed fine for this kind of film; as a comedy, it doesn’t require a slam-bang soundtrack. However, it should provide higher quality audio, which was the biggest problem related to the mix. Actually, much of it sounded good. Music showed nice range and clarity, and the bass response demonstrated a reasonably solid punch. Effects were bright and accurate, and they also showed good depth when appropriate.
Unfortunately, Dolittle 2 suffered from some of the edgiest speech I’ve heard from a modern flick. Most of the quieter lines sounded acceptably crisp, but whenever voices rose, the dialogue became surprisingly distorted. For example, check out the scene in which Dolittle tries to call Biggie Mack; it seemed very rough. While I had no trouble comprehending the speech, the edginess became a distraction. Overall, Dolittle 2 only earned a “C+” for sound, mainly due to the vocal problems.
This special edition release of Dr. Dolittle 2 packs in a decent set of extras. One of the goofiest appears prior to the DVD’s menu itself. We see the raccoon voiced by Michael Rapaport and are asked, “Do you want to go see the beaver?” You have to enter “Yes” to proceed. Actually, it was disappointing that the selection of “No” went nowhere; as far as I can tell, you just get the same “Do you want to go see the beaver?” asked ad infinitum if you continue to refuse.
In regard to the actual supplements, this battery starts with an audio commentary with director Steve Carr and co-producer Heidi Santelli. Both were recorded together for this running, fairly screen-specific track. Although the piece was a little light on information, the engaging presentation made it more palatable.
One major flaw of the track stemmed from the fact that most of the time, we just heard how great everyone was. Carr strongly dominated the piece, and both participants often simply related the names of actors and told us that they were terrific. Actually, in this case I didn’t mind the glorified credit sequence aspect of the commentary since so many of the performers aren’t onscreen; we learned a lot about the voice actors. Nonetheless, the whole thing seemed awfully obsequious much of the time.
However, both Carr and Santelli appeared to enjoy the process, and their spirited attitudes carried the commentary a long way. Sometimes tracks may not include a great deal of information, but they possess a tone that makes them involving, and that was the case here. Once I got accustomed to Carr’s accent and bad jokes, I thought this was a fairly entertaining piece. They discussed some useful information along the way, such as their experiences with Eddie Murphy and some nuts and bolts. This wasn’t a great commentary, but I found it to offer a reasonably fun experience that works best if you expect a light tone without much substantial information.
In the same vein we get The Making of Dr. Dolittle 2, a feature that apparently first aired on HBO. The 25-minute and 40-second program largely followed the same path usually found in this kind of promotional piece. It combined lots of film clips with shots from the set and brief interview soundbites from key personnel. As such, we see some decent behind the scenes material, but overall this was little more than a glorified trailer that lacks much depth; expect to hear a lot about the story, the characters, and whatnot, but not much that deals with the making of the film.
I must admit I did enjoy the fact that Murphy made no pretense about being on the set with the bear. Usually actors love to tell us that they did their own stunts and aren’t afraid of danger, but Murphy avoids that claptrap. He clearly states that he wasn’t going anywhere near the more ferocious animals and relates a story about almost working with an alligator.
Where this special differs from the usual formula, however, occurs during its first half. That part of the show has almost nothing to do with Dolittle 2. Instead, we find a fairly interesting Murphy career retrospective. We hear comments from Murphy about many of his films - including Delirious, 48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, Klumps, Bowfinger, and Life - and see a clips from those flicks. Murphy also briefly discusses his time on Saturday Night Live. This aspect of the special fails to contribute any insights, but it offers a breezy and entertaining experience nonetheless.
Next up are two Extended Scenes. “The Jail” lasts for three minutes, 25 seconds and can be viewed with or without remarks from Carr and Santelli, while “Mr. Potter Signs the Document” goes for 40 seconds and includes no commentary. Note that since these are extended sequences, the amount of new footage is fairly minor; I’d estimate that between the two, we only see maybe a minute of unused material. The extra bits from “The Jail” deserved to be cut, as they added nothing to the film, but I wish they’d retained the “Potter” footage. This involved a funny bit with Jeffrey Jones, who was underutilized in the movie. As for the commentary, it merits a listen if just to hear about some of the actors who almost played animals in the flick.
In Bear Necessities: A Kids Guide to Grizzlies, we get a decent little primer about our furry friends. Hosted by Michael Dee of the Los Angeles Zoo, this eight minute and 20 second program provides a basic but engaging look at the lives of bears. Sure, it’s oriented toward kids, but I learned something too!
“Necessities” has a couple of weird moments. Around the midpoint, Dee tells us we need to take a commercial break, and we see a funny ad for John West Salmon. After that, we learn about a project to create a bear protection suit that’ll allow the wearer to get closer to them for study. We briefly watch tests for it - such as ramming it with a car - but that’s about it. Both of these elements look like spoofs, but they seem to be legit. They sure do add an odd tone to the piece.
More conventional is Making Movie Magic With Rhythm and Hues, a five minute and 225 second featurette that examines the film’s special effects. This program shows various elements as they’re built into final effects-laden form, and we hear from visual effects supervisor/second unit director Doug Smith and visual effects producer Gary Nolan as they discuss their work. Though brief, this was a satisfying look at these elements, and it added to my appreciation of the effects.
Storyboard Sequences provides five different board to film comparisons. These last between 47 seconds and five minutes, 27 seconds for a total of 11 minutes and six seconds of footage. (Yes, that’s 666 seconds - spooky!) The storyboards appear in the top half of the screen, while the final film itself shows up in the bottom part. I don’t find storyboards to be very interesting, so these leave me cold, but the presentation seems solid.
I also don’t much care for rap, so the music video for “Cluck Cluck” by the Product G&B Featuring Wyclef did little for me. Actually, the song itself isn’t bad, but the three-minute and 43-second video’s an odd affair. For the most part, it follows usual rap video conventions; the performers lip-synch and lots of babes dance around them. Some film clips appear as well. The odd part stems from the inclusion of chickens throughout the piece, and some of the women transform into hens. Freaky! Elsewhere, a “Music Promo Spot” adds a short ad for the soundtrack. Yes, it’s as useless as it sounds.
Taken from the Animal Planet cable channel, Wild On the Set With Tank the Bear offers a reasonably fun and useful look at furry performers. The show mainly follows animal trainer Doug Seus as he works with Tank, the lead actor who did Archie in the flick. We learn some nice bits about working with animals and see many aspects of the equation, which means another short discussion of the film’s visual effects. It’s not a great special but it contributes a bit of good information.
Finally, Dolittle 2 includes a slew of ads. We find two theatrical trailers plus a whopping 12 TV spots. In addition, there’s a trailer for an upcoming computer animated flick called Ice Age.
I should note that Dr. Dolittle 2 offers “NUON-enhanced features”. This section can only be accessed on players with NUON technology built into them. That leaves me out, so I can’t comment on these extras. I’d refer you to the official NUON site for details, but it currently offers no mention of Dolittle 2, though it does discuss the first NUON title from Fox, Bedazzled.
As a film, Dr. Dolittle 2 seemed decent at best. The movie boasted a good lead performance from Eddie Murphy and some very strong special effects, but the humor was too ordinary and the story seemed drab. The DVD offered generally good but flawed picture and sound plus a reasonably solid complement of extras. Fans of the first film will likely enjoy this one, but Eddie Murphy aficionados will probably prefer to stick with some of his other material.