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In England, there’s a Doctor John Dolittle,
Who would rather be with animals than men.
He learns just how best to greet them
And comes up with ways to treat them,
And refuses too to eat them,
Though he’s tempted now and then.
 
This doctor earns the scorn of many people,
Such as Emma Fairfax, who believes him rude.
Emma’s uncle just abhors him,
Doctor Dolittle ignores them,
But one Matthew Mugg adores him,
Thinks the doctor’s wise and shrewd.
 
The good doctor seeks a giant pinkish sea snail,
Whose existence many scholars disbelieve.
Though he’s friend to fowl and bunny,
And the bees could offer honey,
All his patients don’t have money
So he can’t afford to leave.
 
Then a colleague ships to him a pushmi-pullyu,
Quite a rarity with two connected heads.
To the circus he displays it,
And they cannot help but praise it.
Any price, the public pays it,
And to John the money spreads.
 
Then the doctor sees a seal that seems unhappy;
She is homesick (this he knows because he heard her).
So he hides her with devotion,
And then, singing with emotion,
Doctor throws her in the ocean,
Which onlookers think is murder.
 
Though he proves that he is innocent of bloodshed,
An asylum still the justice recommends.
Of the charges, he’s acquitted,
But he’s nonetheless committed,
But his escorts are outwitted
By his animalian friends.
 
When the Doctor finds that Emma has decided
To go with them once their voyage has set sail,
He does not at first approve her,
But by then he can’t remove her,
So he thinks work will behoove her,
As he searches for the snail.
 
Once a thunderstorm destroys their flimsy vessel,
They all make it to a nearby floating isle.
Though each native’s educated,
All their laws are sadly dated,
And, for Dolittle, it’s stated
He must die in dreadful style.
 
But a whale he spoke with moves the floating island
Till it merges with the mainland once again.
There’s a ruling for this portent,
And it does not call for torment
So the punishment is shortened,
And they free the girl and men.
 
Doctor Dolittle then finds the fabled sea snail
And insists his friends go back beneath its dome.
News from home, for him, is splendid:
For his sake, beasts are offended
So his sentence is rescinded,
And he rides a moth back home.
___________________________
 

Doctor Dolittle is an old musical featuring Rex Harrison, not a forgettable Eddie Murphy comedy. This original 1967 version of Hugh Lofting’s classic book series comes closest to capturing the spirit of the books and manages to be a decent musical as well. True, Doctor Dolittle is nothing compared with other classic musicals, such as The Sound of Music, Oliver!, or even Rex Harrison’s My Fair Lady three years earlier.

The story tends to ramble and the Oscar-winning special effects look rather dated, but, nevertheless, it excels in one area in particular – the lyrics. Since I already love poetry, I enjoy musicals for their poetic use of lyrics to move a story along, and Doctor Dolittle definitely has some of the best. Whether delivering an ASPCA-worthy harangue over man’s inhumanity to animals (which inspired the above poem’s rhyme scheme) or crowing a jubilant ditty about the uniqueness of a two-headed llama (my favorite song in the film, sung by Richard Attenborough), lyricist Leslie Bricusse of Willy Wonka fame really outdid himself, and the songs well fit Anthony Newley’s Irish lilt and Rex Harrison’s speaking-with-rhythm style of singing. Granted, the slower tunes are less successful, like Samantha Eggar’s song and the song where the doctor realizes his (somewhat mismatched) feelings for Emma. The humorous script is also outstanding.

The best word to describe the film as a whole would be charming, even if it is a tad silly and overly long and a definite step down for the great Rex Harrison. My VC, on the other hand, loves almost everything about it, the film being a lifetime favorite of hers. Anthony Newley is particularly well cast, in her opinion. While there are many musicals I like better (as continuing readers will see), Doctor Dolittle definitely deserves a spot on my list.

Best line: (Dolittle) “If one place is as good as any other, it’s high time we decided. Otherwise when we get there, we won’t know we’ve arrived.” (a maddening line that could easily have been uttered by Captain Jack Sparrow)

 
Artistry: 4
Characters/Actors: 5
Entertainment: 5
Visual Effects: 3
Originality: 6
Watchability: 4
Other (songs): +2
 
TOTAL: 29 out of 60
 

Tomorrow: #324: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

© 2014 S. G. Liput