Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle movie had a whole mess of problems, but few were as glaring or memorably terrible as its messy ending. Here’s why.
The ending of Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle was underwhelming to say the least, which echoes the entire movie being a disappointment. This newest feature film adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle book series saw Robert Downey Jr. taking on the titular role of a medical professional who can talk to animals. In this particular incarnation of the character, Dolittle, in the wake of his wife’s demise, has become a recluse. After years of shutting himself and his animal sanctuary off from the world, Dolittle is called back into action. Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is deathly sick and the only possible cure for her condition is a magical fruit that only Dolittle can find.
This sends Dolittle and a horde of animal sidekicks on an adventure that sees the group encountering everything from pirates to dragons. This journey is one that audiences largey chose to skip. Having grossed a meek $228 million worldwide on a $175 million budget, Dolittle ended up being a major box office bomb for Universal as well as a poor way to kick off Robert Downey Jr.’s post-Iron Man career.
Even with the film’s theatrical release in the rearview mirror, questions still linger over many aspects of Dolittle. Perhaps no other part of the production generates as many queries as its ending. While much of Dolittle is slapdash, its ending is particularly messy. Dolittle’s conclusion is both lackluster in its own right as well as a microcosm of many of the very worst traits of the entire movie.
What Happens In Dolittle’s Ending
Dolittle’s quest to reach the magical fruit leads him and rival Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen) to the lair of a dragon named Ginko-Who-Soars (Frances de la Tour). Tasked with guarding this enchanted item, the dragon proceeds to attack the intruding humans, killing numerous members of Mudfly’s crew in the process. Just as she has Dr. Dolittle in her clutches, Dolittle spies a dragon skull in Ginko’s cave. Presuming this to be an indicator that Ginko has also lost a loved one, Dolittle and Ginko proceed to bond over their shared experience with loss. This establishes enough trust between the two individuals to allow Dolittle to use his medical skills to help Ginko with the true source of her agitation.
It turns out Ginko’s fiery attitude stems from her having something lodged in her rectum. Now it’s up to Dolittle and his animal cohorts to remove the disruptive object. After a struggle, the group is able to extract a pair of bagpipes from Ginko’s body. Having now aided Ginko, the dragon allows the group to take the healing elixir back to England. Though the duel with the dragon is over, Dolittle isn’t finished just yet. Upon returning to London, Dolittle must now deal with Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent). One of the Queen’s chairmen, he had secretly poisoned Queen Victoria and sent Mudfly to sabotage Dolittle’s efforts to gain the elixir. Having now procured a cure for her Majesty, the time has come for Dolittle to confront Badgley.
Upon bursting into the Queen’s chamber, a brief skirmish breaks out between Dolittle’s animal friends and Badgley’s henchmen. Eventually, the fighting ceases and Dolittle is able to give the elixir to the Queen. To boot, with the help of a stick-bug witness, Dolittle reveals that Badgely was the one responsible for poisoning Queen Victoria. While Badgely attempts to discredit Dolittle as a kook who talks to bugs, a powerful voice steps in to defend Dolittle. The suddenly-revived Queen Victoria orders for Badgley to be taken away and expresses her gratitude to Dolittle for saving her. After this rejuvenating adventure, Dolittle’s previously reclusive nature has faded away. Subsequently, Dolittle reopens up his haven to the public and offers the services of both himself and his animals for any possible adventure. Dolittle also manages to take on supporting character Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) as his apprentice.
Why Dolittle’s Ending Is So Bad
Dolittle as a movie is plagued by distracting tonal shifts. Some parts of the production are aiming for a more serious adventure movie vibe akin to a Pirates of the Caribbean title. However, far too much of it is bogged down by the kind of loud frantic comedy that one would find in a Despicable Me feature. This tonal issue becomes especially apparent during the ending of Dolittle, particularly during the sequences with Ginko-Who-Soars. Dolittle attempts to sell this dragon as a formidable threat to our heroes. Such efforts including a barely off-screen moment where she chomps one of Mudfly’s henchman in half. Conceptually, Dolittle intends for Ginko-Who-Soars to be more Smaug than Toothless.
Such intentions get undercut by Dolittle’s inability to ease up on wacky comedy. Scenes where Ginko is attacking both Dolittle and Mudfly’s parties are intercut with cutaway gags like duck Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer) defecating an egg in terror. As a result, the tension of this climactic battle never materializes. The tonal problems only get worse as the scene goes on, particularly once Dolittle is required to perform an enema on Ginko. In the span of a few minutes, Dolittle has gone from showing a dragon devouring people to having that same dragon engage in an extended act of flatulence, along with Dolittle pulling various things out of the dragon’s butt. As a result of this scene’s erratic tenor, it becomes impossible to get invested in these characters finishing their quest, and the ending just comes off as sheer madness (even by nature of this kind of movie). It’s thus impossible to take in any way seriously.
There are plenty of other problems tied into Dolittle’s ending beyond issues related to tone. Among such foibles is how the lack of preceding character development lets down climactic instances of intended poignancy. Pivotal moments like Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) giving a peck on the cheek to Tommy fall flat since such actions occur to characters the audience has no real bond with. Speaking of characters, it’s also strange that Dolittle resolves a number of the character arcs related to Dolittle’s animal companions far too early. By the midway point of Dolittle, former rivals Yoshi (John Cena) and Plimpton (Kumail Nanjani) have become close friends while cowardly gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek) has managed to exhibit bravery. With such arcs resolved, this leaves the animal characters in Dolittle with nothing to do in its final half-hour.
Would A Different Ending Have Saved Dolittle?
Certain movies are saved by their third acts. Dolittle is a case where the ending only emphasizes to viewers the very worst qualities of the preceding feature. The ending’s attempts at providing character arc resolutions or moments of poignancy reinforce how little the viewer has actually connected with Dolittle’s characters. Considering how subpar Dolittle’s current ending is, one can’t help but wonder if an alternative conclusion could have improved the quality of the production. To be sure, there are ways a different Dolittle ending could have improved on some of the flaws of the film.
Most notably, a different ending could have had a far more cohesive tone. This would have especially benefited the confrontation with the dragon. Easing up on the clumsy comedy here would have allowed the emotional beats related to Dolittle’s past to have room to breathe. However, even a tweaked Dolittle ending could only do so much for the movie’s overall quality. Even before its climax involving a dragon enema, though, Dolittle is a movie plagued by prominent problems. For example, Dolittle’s new backstory involving a deceased wife is a tedious use of the Fridging trope rather than an effective way to get viewers dramatically engaged with Dolittle. Another issue is the largely lifeless voice-over work of the animal characters. Worst of Dolittle’s consistently-present faults, though, is its painfully unfunny comedy.
The list goes on and on in terms of the issues that drag Dolittle down long before its ending occurs. Dolittle’s ending is certainly underwhelming. It features some of the most glaring examples of the project’s worst flaws like its pervasive tonal issues. However, a new ending wouldn’t automatically salvage Dolittle. The film’s current concluding sequences are a symptom of a larger creative disease rather than the origin of all of Dolittle’s shortcomings. If one were looking to improve the quality of Dolittle, they’d have to look far beyond its ending.