It is a well-known fact that the big-budget reimagining of the Hugh Lofting children’s books series Doctor Dolittle was dead on arrival. This news should be shocking to many, as the movie starred Robert Downey Jr. as the talking-to-animals doctor. But it’s true, the movie had issues from the get-go and no matter who was brought in to help clean up the script, there was no fixing it. Just ask Seth Rogen who says not only was it doomed, but the whole thing was kind of a scam.
You’d think that bringing Iron Man into a potentially new franchise would be a slam dunk. That was the goal of Dolittle makers, a new franchise for Downey Jr. as Lofting had created plenty of stories for John Dolittle. But big-budget hit turned immediately into a big-budget flop as critics tore into the movie and fans didn’t even bother to show.
Seth Rogen is mainly known as a comedic actor. He has been in wonderful movies (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Neighbors, This is the End) and he has been in some horrible ones (The Green Hornet, Observe and Report) with many that fall in between (The Pineapple Express, Long Shot). You may know that Rogen also writes many of his movies. What you may not know is that he is such a respected writer around Hollywood that he is oftentimes brought in to punch up scripts to other movies. This was the case for Dolittle and it was a case of too little, too late.
Rogen was on the Howard Stern Show recently, pitching his new HBO Max flick An American Pickle when he began to talk about his role in writing for Dolittle. “Some movies are like scams. It’s like buying blueprints to a house that looks nice, but when you try to actually build the house it doesn’t stand up properly. That is a thing that happens with films and I recognize it sometimes. Where I will see a movie and be like, ‘Oh they lied, whoever wrote and directed this movie lied.’ They made it seem like they were selling the studio an actual, functional film but they did not. They sold them like the schematics of a movie that when built does not hold up to stress testing. I’ll only say this because it was reported and I’m going to tread lightly because I am close with many of the people involved, but I did that on the Dr. Dolittle film,” he told Stern.
It was back in 2018 that Universal saw the first cut of Dolittle and was less than impressed. The family-film was decidedly darker than what the studio wanted, so reshoots were in order. This also meant bringing in some help to lighten up the script. Enter Rogen and his Neighbors co-writer Brendan O’Brien. But trying to turn the dark material into more family-friendly material could have been asking a bit much for Rogen and O’Brien as their material is much more R-Rated in nature. This could be the reason for the final, uneven product that was released.
Rogen, though, told Stern that perhaps there were too many inherent structural problems to overcome. He also added his thoughts on script doctoring, “It’s like, on the grand scale of positions to be in as a writer, it’s a cushy position to be in. Stakes are low for you personally in that role which is nice. But it’s also like, you want to help! I like movies and I like the actors in that movie and I don’t want anyone to not be happy with the movie. Universal, who made that movie, have been very supportive of me and my career and made a lot of our movies…They were having problems with the movie and were calling in people to help kind of get to the bottom of it.”
Rogen’s Dolittle portion of the Stern interview can be seen here.
Seth Rogen’s acknowledgment that the problems were known by the studio just shows how out of control things can get when making a movie. Seth Rogen and O’Brien eventually had to leave the project for other projects so Universal brought in more writers to help. It didn’t. The critical destruction of the movie, along with the horrible box office, has pretty much killed the idea of a franchise and rightfully so. If the original writers, then script doctors, and even more script doctors couldn’t save Dolittle, there is no reason to move forward with a franchise.
Of course, this wasn’t the first iteration of Doctor Dolittle. Rex Harrison famously kicked it all off with the 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle, then Eddie Murphy brought Dolittle back with Dr. Dolittle and Dr. Dolittle 2. That series continued when Dolittle’s daughter, Maya, took over in Dr. Dolittle 3, Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief, and finally Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts. Over a decade later, Downey Jr. was hired to save the day once again. Unfortunately, that plan backfired and maybe it was always going to backfire, because the whole idea was a scam from the beginning.