Warning: SPOILERS for Dolittle ahead!
With a budget of $175 million, Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan on directing duties and a star-studded cast led by fan favorite MCU actor Robert Downey Jr., Dolittle on paper had all the makings of a blockbuster hit. But it flopped, hard, and whenever a movie as expensive as Dolittle performs as poorly as Dolittle a post-mortem is always called for to find out what went wrong. On that front, it sounds like Dolittle had a rockier road to theaters than we realized.
Based on THR’s reporting, Universal Studios executives saw the first cut of Dolittle way back in fall of 2018 and immediately identified some problems that the film had. The assembled cut of Dolittle apparently didn’t really feel like the family movie it was intended to be. It lacked comedic elements and, surprisingly given the story, didn’t really feature as much in the way of special effects as it was expected to. The ending too was devoid of humor and sounds like it was actually a bit of a downer.
It seems that there was a realization surrounding Dolittle that they didn’t get the right person for the job. Director Stephen Gaghan had won an Oscar for his Traffic screenplay and been nominated for another for Syriana, which he also directed, but it seems this material and the vision for Dolittle simply didn’t match up with his sensibilities. By the time they all realized he wasn’t the right director, it was too late and they had to scramble.
So Universal’s thinking was reportedly that the film needed to be funnier and have more special effects sequences. Unfortunately, Dolittle went on a rocky road with plenty of speed bumps and people getting in and out of the car on the way to that destination.
Seth Rogen was consulted and along with Neighbors co-writer Brendan O’Brien, they worked out what they thought could make Dolittle funnier. Unfortunately, they were busy and had to leave the project. Director of The Lego Batmam Movie Chris McKay was brought in and he worked with star and executive producer Robert Downey Jr. to storyboard and come up with a way to fix the film through cost-effective reshoots.
Some of the changes that came out of that were to make the film more mission-oriented and to change actor Harry Collett’s character from Dr. Dolittle’s son to his apprentice. That was a big change considering that it sounds like Stephen Gaghan’s original vision was a father and son story. Alas, Chris McKay also left for another project and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman was brought in to work with Robert Downey Jr.
We’ve previously heard that the notorious ‘dragon enema scene’ at the end of Dolittle was added in the film’s reshoots. This much-talked about scene, that was the subject of such internet discussion and critical derision has become emblematic of the film’s shortcomings. Now we may know who was responsible.
Screenwriter John Whittington came aboard during the reshoots on Dolittle at one point to write some new pages for the film. When he met with Robert Downey Jr. to discuss these new additions, Robert Downey Jr. allegedly tore the pages up because he had another idea in mind.
It seems that there was a plan for the third-act of Dolittle, but star Robert Downey Jr., called an audible and came up with the dragon enema idea last minute, although there is some debate about that point and whether it was his idea or not. Hilariously, there was apparently even a debate among the filmmakers about what exactly would be causing the dragon’s constipation.
Despite these competing visions and the revolving door of people on Dolittle, this was apparently not a contentious production. Stephen Gaghan was a good soldier and stayed involved throughout and the environment was apparently quite positive and everyone got along.
Nevertheless, it sounds like Dolittle was definitely a case of too many cooks and not every difficult production can have a positive result like World War Z or become an absolute masterpiece like Mad Max: Fury Road. Dolittle is expected to lose between $75 million and $100 million at the box office when it’s all said and done.
Dolittle is now playing. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to keep track of all of this year’s biggest movies.