Think of the amazing repartee!
Probably the only memorable thing about the 1967 film Dr Dolittle is this song, Talk To The Animals. In the film, it’s performed by Rex Harrison with a slow placed, almost conversational delivery. I prefer the faster paced renditions, like those performed by Sammy Davis Jr. and in this video, Vanda King.
The song is a personal favorite of mine and has been since childhood. I find the lyrics quite clever and the melody infectious. The only problem I have with the song is the same problem I have with the film – both are way too long. Dr Dolittle clocks in at almost three hours when the intermission is included – a brutal exercise, punctuated by the fact that the film is primarily for children. Expecting kids to sit there for 3 hours is just too much, I think.
For years, I have felt that the narrative should have been tweaked and Dr Dolittle should have been presented as two 90 minute films, released a year or so apart. That’s much easier for children to digest, and a lot easier for the adults in the audience, too.
As it stands, the film was enormously expensive and, sadly, a commercial failure, and caused financial mayhem with 20th Century Fox, which continued to feel the pain until almost a decade later when they released Star Wars in May, 1977. Dr Dolittle also marks the beginning of the end of major leading roles for Rex Harrison. 20th Century Fox also launched an all-out marketing blitz for the film, further compromising the bottom line.
In the end, Dr Dolittle has earned a warm spot in the hearts of many fans over the decades. Perhaps its most enduring legacy is that it marked the end of this type of film: a musical children’s adventure that’s nonetheless good for fans of all ages. These days, that niche is dominated by animated films featuring the voices of established stars, a genre that’s grown tedious and tiresome. I’d like to see this type of film make a comeback – I think if it were done well, it could be huge.
So, what courageous filmmaker has the guts to try it?