Making the Grades
Because of the scarcity of movie going experience during my young life, the day I saw Doctor Dolittle in the theater left a lasting impression. I could not imagine anyone more beautiful than Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar) who went by the nickname Fred, or anything more wonderful than the good doctor's special talent. After several months of dressing up in anything I thought resembled a hoop skirt and singing If I Could Talk To The Animals at the top of my lungs while relentlessly chasing my mother's cats, my parents bought me a Doctor Dolittle coloring book hoping it would provide a more tolerable outlet for my creative expression.
Nominated for Best Picture at the 1967 Academy Awards, this musical adaptation of Hugh Lofting's classic stories brings to life the world of Doctor John Dolittle (played by Rex Harrison), a 19th century English physician who throws away his family practice to pursue his true interest--veterinary medicine. With a little help from his pet parrot, the doctor is soon conversing with animals of every species.
Dolittle's obsession is not well understood by his fellow townsmen, who mistake his kind-hearted attempt to free a circus seal (disguised in a hat and shawl) as deliberately throwing an old woman into the ocean. When it appears justice will not prevail, a madcap jailbreak orchestrated by a chimp and a parrot, with help from some loyal friends--Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) an Irishman, Tommy Stubbins (William Dix), a local boy with amazingly permissive parents, and Emma Fairfax a wealthy young woman with a soft spot for fanatical animal lovers--enable the Doctor's escape to sea. To the optimistic Dolittle, this time in exile is the perfect opportunity to search for the legendary Pink Sea Snail--a quest that leads to even more adventures.
Alas, as is often the case when one revisits childhood memories, Doctor Dolittle was not quite as riveting as I remembered. Sometimes politically incorrect (especially with cultural stereotypes), and often silly, I found my added years removed a lot of the wonder the film originally inspired. It may also be a disappointment to other older viewers who are discerning enough to suspect that the mysterious origins of the exotic push-me-pull-you (an animal with two heads) might be a costume factory.
Then I watched my five-year-old daughter (who takes after her mother in more ways than hair color) and saw a look of total rapture. Perhaps I shall concede with the lyrics of the opening song: "Maybe what the Doctor tells me / Isn't all together true / But I love every tale he tells me / I can't think of a better one--can you?"
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Doctor Dolittle.
Although the film is set in the late 1800, how does the “I want to be just like a man” characterization of Emma Fairfax reflect the equal rights revolution that was occurring in 1967 when the film was made?
Which of the male characters, Matthew Mugg or John Dolittle, treats Emma with the most respect and equality? Why does she fall in love with the more chauvinistic of the two?