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Doctor Dolittle (1967 film) facts for kids

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Doctor Dolittle
Original movie poster for the film Doctor Dolittle.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Chantrell
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs
Screenplay by Leslie Bricusse
Starring
Music by
  • Leslie Bricusse
  • Lionel Newman
  • Alexander Courage
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Editing by
  • Samuel E. Beetley
  • Marjorie Fowler
Studio APJAC Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 12, 1967 (1967-12-12) (London premiere)
December 19, 1967 (1967-12-19) (United States)
Running time 152 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17 million
Money made $9 million

Doctor Dolittle (also known as Dr. Dolittle) is a 1967 American musical comedy film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, and Richard Attenborough. It was adapted by Leslie Bricusse from the novel series by Hugh Lofting. It primarily fuses three of the books, The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920), The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922), and Doctor Dolittle's Circus (1924).

Numerous attempts to adapt the Doctor Dolittle series began as early as the 1920s. In the early 1960s, actress-turned-producer Helen Winston acquired the film rights in an attempt to produce a film adaptation to no success. In 1963, producer Arthur P. Jacobs subsequently acquired the rights and recruited Alan Jay Lerner to compose the songs and Rex Harrison to star in the project. After numerous delays, Lerner was later fired and replaced by Leslie Bricusse. The film encountered a more notoriously protracted production with numerous setbacks along the way such as complications from poorly chosen shooting locations, creative demands from Harrison, and the numerous technical difficulties inherent with the large number of animals required for the story. The film exceeded its original budget of $6 million by three times.

Doctor Dolittle premiered in London on December 12, 1967, where it eventually recouped $9 million during its theatrical run, earning only $6.2 million in theatrical rentals and becoming a box office bomb. The film received negative critical reviews, but through the studio's intense lobbying, it earned nine Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, and won awards for Best Original Song and Best Visual Effects.

Plot

In early Victorian England, Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) takes his young friend Tommy Stubbins (William Dix) to visit eccentric Doctor John Dolittle (Rex Harrison) for an injured duck that Matthew had acquired from a local fisherman. Dolittle, a former medical doctor, lives with an extended menagerie, including a chimpanzee named Chee-Chee, a dog named Jip, and a talking blue-and-yellow macaw named Polynesia (the uncredited voice of Ginny Tyler). Dolittle claims that he can talk to animals. In a flashback, he explains that he kept so many animals in his home that they created havoc with his human patients, who took their medical needs elsewhere. His sister, who served as his housekeeper, demanded that he dispose of the animals or she would leave; he chose the animals. Polynesia taught him that different animal species can talk to each other, prompting Dolittle to study animal languages so that he could become an animal doctor. He is planning his latest expedition: to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail.

The next day, while treating a horse for nearsightedness, Dolittle is accused by the horse's owner, General Bellowes (Peter Bull), of stealing his horse and ruining his fox hunt by sheltering and protecting the fox (a vixen named Sheila) and her children, by a group of skunks that protect the foxes, which drive the bloodhounds out of the barn where the skunks are kept. Bellowes' niece, Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar), offended by his lack of human empathy, chides Dolittle for his rudeness to her uncle, while he states his contempt for her and other humans who hunt animals, causing her to storm off. Matthew falls in love with her at first sight.

An American Indian friend of Dolittle's sends him a rare Pushmi-pullyu, a creature that looks like a llama with a head on each end of its body, so that Dolittle can earn money for his expedition. Dolittle takes the creature to a nearby circus, run by Albert Blossom (Richard Attenborough), where the Pushmi-Pullyu becomes the star attraction. The doctor befriends a circus seal named Sophie who longs to return to her husband at the North Pole. Dolittle smuggles her out of the circus, disguises her in women's clothing to convey her to the coast, and then throws her into the ocean. Fishermen mistake the seal for a woman and have Doctor Dolittle arrested on a charge of murder.

General Bellowes is the magistrate in his case, but Dolittle proves he can converse with animals by talking with Bellowes' dog and revealing details that only Bellowes and the dog could know. Although Dolittle is acquitted on the murder charge, the vindictive judge sentences him to a lunatic asylum.

Dolittle's animal friends engineer his escape, and he, Matthew, Tommy, Polynesia, Chee-Chee and Jip set sail in search of the Great Pink Sea Snail. Emma, by this time fascinated by Dolittle, stows away, seeking adventure. They randomly choose their destination: Sea-Star Island, a floating island currently in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship is torn apart during a storm.

Everyone washes ashore on Sea-Star Island, where Emma and Dolittle admit they have grown to like each other. The party is met by the island's natives, whom they mistake for hostile savages. The populace are in fact highly educated and cultured from reading books that have washed ashore from innumerable shipwrecks. Their leader is William Shakespeare the Tenth (Geoffrey Holder); his name reflects the tribe's tradition of naming children after favorite authors. William explains that they are wary of strangers coming to the island, and that the tropical island is currently endangered because it is drifting north into colder waters and all the animals on the island have caught colds. Mistrust leads the islanders to blame the doctor and his party. Dolittle persuades a whale to push the island south, but this causes a balancing rock to drop into a volcano, fulfilling a prophecy that dooms Dolittle and party to "die of 10,000 screams." However, the push by the whale also causes the island to rejoin the unknown mainland, fulfilling another prophecy that dictates that the doctor and his friends be heralded as heroes and they are freed.

While treating the animals on the island, Dolittle receives a surprise patient – the Great Pink Sea Snail, which has also caught a severe cold. Dolittle discovers that the snail's shell is watertight and can carry passengers. Dolittle sends Matthew, Tommy, Emma, Polynesia, Chee-Chee, and Jip back to England with the snail. Emma wishes to stay on the island with him, but the Doctor is adamant that a relationship would never work. She finally admits her feelings for the Doctor, and kisses him goodbye. Dolittle cannot go back because he is still a wanted man. Furthermore, he wishes to investigate the natives' stories of another creature, the Giant Luna Moth. After his friends have left, Dolittle realizes painfully that he has feelings for Emma.

Sometime later, Sophie the seal arrives accompanied by her husband. They bring a message: the animals of England have gone on strike to protest his sentence and Bellowes has agreed to pardon him. Dolittle and the islanders construct a saddle for the Giant Luna Moth and Dolittle rides the creature back to England.

Cast

  • Rex Harrison as Doctor John Dolittle
  • Samantha Eggar as Emma Fairfax, a woman who befriends Doctor Dolittle. She is a character created for the film. Emma's singing voice is dubbed by Diana Lee.
  • Anthony Newley as Matthew Mugg, a man who befriends Doctor Dolittle.
  • Richard Attenborough as Albert Blossom, the circus owner
  • Peter Bull as General Bellowes, the magistrate who is Emma's uncle. He is a character created for the film.
  • Muriel Landers as Mrs. Blossom
  • William Dix as Tommy Stubbins, the young friend of Matthew Mugg
  • Geoffrey Holder as William Shakespeare X, the chieftain of Sea Star Island's natives. He is based loosely on Prince Bumpo, a character from the books
  • Portia Nelson as Sarah Dolittle, Doctor Dolittle's sister.
  • Norma Varden as Lady Petherington, an elderly hypochondriac who was one of the Doctor's main patients when he was an M.D.
  • Ginny Tyler as the voice of Polynesia (uncredited), the pet parrot of Doctor Dolittle.
  • Jack Raine as the Vicar (uncredited), a man with hay fever who was one of the Doctor's main patients when he was an M.D.
  • Paul Vernon as Fisherman (uncredited), one of two who arrest Dr. Dolittle.
  • Arthur Gould-Porter as Sir Rupert (uncredited), a man with a broken foot who was one of the Doctor's main patients when he was an M.D.
  • Bob Winters as Juggler (uncredited)
  • Queenie Leonard as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
  • Cyril Cross as Charlie (uncredited), an Irish fisherman.
  • Rufus as Dog (uncredited)
  • Sophie as Seal (uncredited)
  • Polynesia as Parrot (uncredited)
  • Wally Ross as Elephant Act (uncredited)

Music

Doctor Dolittle Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
Released August 28, 1967
Recorded 1966–7
Genre Soundtrack
Length 45:18
Label 20th Century Fox Records

The lyrics and score music for Doctor Dolittle was composed by Leslie Bricusse and conducted by Lionel Newman. Following a test screening in Minneapolis, preview audiences wrote on their comment cards that the film was too long. Before the film was screened again in San Francisco, several verses of the songs were edited out to improve the film's pacing including "Something in Your Smile". Additional edits were made including the removal of "Where Are the Words?" and "Beautiful Things" was shortened. In the original cut of the movie, Dr. Dolittle and Emma did eventually begin a relationship in which he sang "Where Are the Words?", when he realizes he is falling in love with her, but in a revised version, it's actually Matthew who falls for Emma and it is his recording of the song which is featured on the soundtrack album. Both versions were filmed and both actors recorded their respective versions, but the footage for both, as well as the vocal track by Rex Harrison have been lost.

In both scenarios, "Something In Your Smile" is sung by Dolittle when he realizes he himself has fallen for Emma; although Harrison's vocal for the song survives, the footage does not exist. Ultimately, the version screened in San Jose, California, which ran 151 minutes, became the final cut of the film.

The soundtrack release was accompanied by an enormous media blitz, with half a million copies of the mono and stereo LP soundtrack being issued in retail stores four months before the premiere. The song, "Talk to the Animals", was recorded internationally by Bobby Darin, Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Jones, and Andre Kostelanetz. Sammy Davis Jr., who had been dropped from the film, recorded an entire album of music featured in the film. Bobby Darin Sings Doctor Dolittle was released on Atlantic Records in August 1967. Darin's recording of "Beautiful Things" from this LP was featured in a 2013 TV commercial for Etihad Airways. A cover version of the same song by the Shiny Lapel Trio was used in a 2008 Christmas television commercial campaign for the United States retail chain Kohl's.

In November 2017, the 50th Anniversary Expanded Soundtrack from La-La Land Records was released as a lavish 2-CD set and did include numerous demos, rehearsal takes, and alternative versions.

 Professional ratings
Source Rating
AllMusic
No. Title Performer(s) Length
1. "Overture"   20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra 1:15
2. "My Friend the Doctor"   Anthony Newley 3:27
3. "The Vegetarian"   Rex Harrison 4:31
4. "Talk to the Animals"   Harrison 2:48
5. "At the Crossroads"   Samantha Eggar and Diana Lee 2:07
6. "I've Never Seen Anything Like It"   Richard Attenborough 2:26
7. "Beautiful Things"   Newley 4:12
8. "When I Look in Your Eyes"   Harrison 1:47
9. "Like Animals"   Harrison 4:09
10. "After Today"   Newley 2:09
11. "Fabulous Places"   Harrison, Eggar, Lee, and Newley 3:46
12. "Where Are The Words"   Newley 3:50
13. "I Think I Like You"   Harrison, Eggar, and Lee 2:39
14. "Doctor Dolittle"   Newley, William Dix, and Ginny Tyler 2:31
15. "Something In Your Smile"   Harrison 2:33
16. "My Friend the Doctor"   20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra & Chorus 0:56

Stage adaptation

In 1998, the film was adapted into a stage musical, starring Phillip Schofield as Doctor Dolittle, a pre-recorded Julie Andrews as the voice of Dolittle's parrot Polynesia, and the animatronics of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The show ran for 400 performances in London's West End and at the time was one of the most expensive musicals produced. The musical also starred Bryan Smyth, a former milkman and full-time actor and singer who later hosted his own TV game show for RTÉ.

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