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20th Century Fox presents
Doctor Dolittle (1967)

"If I could walk with the animals, talk to the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals, and they could talk with me. "
- Doctor John Dolittle (Rex Harrison)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 15, 2000

Stars: Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley
Other Stars: Richard Attenborough, Peter Bull, William Dix, Geoffrey Holder
Director: Richard Fleisher

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 02h:31m:11s
Release Date: October 31, 2000
UPC: 024543004943
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+A+A D+

DVD Review

In the onslaught of films being released on DVD these days, there are certain titles which hold particular appeal for people. In my case, the announcement of Richard Fleisher's 1967 musical, Doctor Dolittle, was an unexpected one. Having grown up with this film on television (and having never seen it in its intended aspect ratio), I have fond memories of the company I kept and the places where I had seen this. Call it nostalgic, but I was very anxious to see what Fox would deliver on this title, and all I can say is this disc far exceeded my expectations, but we'll get to that in a moment.

The film, based on the works of Hugh Lofting, was originally conceived as a reunion piece for Rex Harrison and the writing and composing team behind My Fair Lady, Alan Lerner & Frederick Loewe. However, Leslie Bricusse would eventually step in for both the script and the soundtrack, and provided the film with a number of superb musical numbers, which Harrison pulls off in almost narrative fashion. Harrison nearly didn't make the picture when scriptwriter Lerner backed out of the project, causing the production to pay his replacement, Christopher Plumber, his entire salary to sit out the shoot when Harrison returned.

As the film opens, we meet Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley), wheeling his push cart through town, where he meets up with young Tommy Stubbins (William Dix). When they come across a fisherman who has returned with a wounded duck, Mugg decides this is a job for his friend, and the town veterinarian, the good Doctor John Dolittle. Rex Harrison plays Dolittle, a man who discovers that his practice as a physician is unrewarding, as he just can't relate to people. Inspired by his parrot Polynesia, he learns that he is able to talk to the animals, and his devotion to the creatures drives his human practice and even his sister out of the house. Nonetheless, he befriends all manner of beast, large and small, and when we and Tommy are introduced to him for the first time, amidst a veritable zoo, he is busy studying the language of goldfish, in the hopes of soon embarking on a quest for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. His only dilemma is the cost of the expedition, since his veterinary practice is a volunteer effort, paid for by the services of his patients—eggs, a ride into town and so forth. Dolittle does get himself in trouble with the local magistrate's neice, Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar), when not only is her uncle's horse discovered in Dolittle's office being fitted with a pair of spectacles, but the prey in the annual fox hunt is also being kept under protection by another of the doctor's guests. The doctor's series of adventures on the road to his snail hunt land him in situations that cause him to rely on his wits and those of his friends—human and animal alike—to get him out of these situations. As luck would have it, an acquaintance of Dolittle's has heard of his plans to locate the Sea Snail, and has sent him a gift to aid in raising funds for the trip... which I won't spoil if you haven't seen the film yet, but let's just say, you've never seen anything like it in your life!

Look for a cameo by Richard Attenborough as the flamboyant Albert Blossom, and Geoffrey Holder (The Uncola man, Live And Let Die) as Willie Shakespeare later in the film.

This film ranks up there amongst my other favorite musicals of this 1960s, including Sound Of Music or My Fair Lady, featuring a great story, beautiful sets, fine acting and memorable musical performances. Harrison is superb in his role as Dolittle, highly intelligent and sympathetic to all, yet somewhat naive in the ways of the world, especially in relation to women. Mugg, Eggart and rest of the supporting cast—including the animals—enrich the film immensely.

The film features several wonderful musical numbers which blend seamlessly with the story, including My Friend The Doctor, Talk To The Animals, At The Crossroads and When I Look In Your Eyes. Fox has also restored the original Overture, Entr'act and Exit music. One can only imagine the difficulties this production faced, with thousands of animals on set, including squirrels who ruined thousands of dollars worth of sets, a goat who ate the director's script, and sheep who fancied Harrison as a urinal! The film is a wonderful family film, and while it is often maligned, I find its charm refreshing. The locations are exquisite, and the cinematography breathtaking. This is a gem of a film, and I know it will be a treasure in my collection. I'd also add that at the time of this writing, the disc seems to be as rare as a Pushmi-Pullyu, as I managed to snag one of the only copies in town, and our review copies hadn't even been shipped yet!

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Doctor Dolittle is presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 TVs. What can I say about this transfer other than WOW (okay, I actually said something else, but this is a family site)! As someone who is usually pretty hard on transfers, I was completely taken aback by how gorgeous this disc looks. Not only are the colors vibrant and glorious, but the level of detail is simply breathtaking, you can (seriously) count the hairs on the animals it is so clear, with no sign of edge enhancement. The print is near flawless, and given how easily the subject matter (patterned wallpapers, fine lace, trees) of the film could have been destroyed by compression, aside from one or two extremely minor points, this transfer is perfect. This gets my highest marks! Bravo Fox!

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
4.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented with an English 4.0 surround track, which preserves the film's original directional dialogue. An English stereo mix and a French mono mix are also included. The 4.0 track is extremely clean with only trace amounts of hiss, though depending on your setup, the directional dialogue may seem a bit strange at times. All three soundtracks are extremely well rendered with no distortion of any kind present.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Well, this is the only area that is lacking on the disc, but given the film's length and the quality of the transfer we got, I don't feel that I should complain too much about a shortage of supplements. We do get the theatrical trailer, which is presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1. The picture and audio on this show their age and stand as stark contrast to the feature. The trailer includes a brief narrative from Harrison.

Each of the fourteen songs is chapter marked, allowing quick access to your favorite number, and the optional subtitles allow you to sing along!

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

There are no superlatives to describe how thrilling it was to experience this film on DVD. This transfer is reference grade, and shows just how far Fox has come in the last year. Depite being thin on supplements, this will undoubtedly be one of the gems in my collection, and is a wonderful family treasure, with the feature presented in the best possible light. Kudos to Fox for taking the care they did on bringing this film to DVD. Fans of the film will be extremely rewarded, and for those not already familiar with it, you are in for a feast for the eyes and ears. Very highly recommended.

 


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