Release Date(s)1967 (November 14, 2017)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Like many of its ilk, the remake of Doctor Dolittle has all but vanished from many people’s minds, despite the fact that it was somewhat popular in its day, even generating sequels. There was nothing to it other than what was on the surface, which is partly why the original film holds up so marvelously well. Not only is it a fantastical, lighthearted, and humorous tale, but it also has something to say. Additionally, it gave its star Rex Harrison the chance to shine in another leading role, one that many people who saw the film when they were children still remember him fondly for. His charismatic, down-to-Earth nature, as well as his dry, British wit, is perfect for the role of an eccentric but caring man who can talk to animals.
Surprisingly, Doctor Dolittle wasn’t a major success when it was originally released, earning some less than positive reviews from critics. However, it managed to bring in a modest profit for 20th Century Fox and was even nominated for several Academy Awards, winning two for Best Song and Best Special Effects. The product of many, not the least of which includes screenwriter and songwriter Leslie Bricusse and director Richard Fleischer, this musical fantasy is quite dazzling. Despite the running time, it moves along at a brisk pace, due partly to most of the character and plot driven musical numbers which help to hurry it along rather than slow it down. The performances are enjoyable from all involved and there’s a sense of playfulness about it. Even dramatic moments aren’t overtly heavy, which works in the film’s favor.
Doctor Dolittle is also radical in its own way due to its message about the treatment of animals by human beings. All of it is summed in the rather poignant musical number “Like Animals” about halfway through the story. Keep in mind that the film was released in 1967, many years before where we are today as great portions of our society now spend much of their time and energy devoting themselves to helping animals of all kinds, whether it be through shelters, rescues, or hospitals. Rex Harrison’s interpretation of Dolittle also has much to do with the film’s lasting appeal. His on-screen compassion for creatures big and small is infectious, carrying us through some of the film’s rockier patches. While the latter half pushes the envelope in terms of believability (which is not an easy thing to say in a film about a man who talks to animals), Doctor Dolittle is a lovely film overall, full of whimsy and wonder with a touch of lasting social commentary.
Twilight Time’s presentation of the film comes from a new 4K high definition transfer taken straight from the film’s original 70mm camera negative at an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. With a format that large, it’s difficult to make the film look bad at all, but this new restoration is superb – one might even say that it’s reference quality. It’s rich with bold and beautiful colors, soaking in fine detail with enormous depth, and featuring almost perfect grain reproduction. Black levels are inky deep with excellent shadow detail while brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. It’s appropriately crisp and sharp with no evidence of digital enhancements on display while also remaining stable with no leftover film or digital artifacts. It’s practically flawless, and superior to any release of it that has come before by miles. The audio for the film is presented on two tracks: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 option is actually a recreation of the film’s original 6 track theatrical presentation, and is obviously the better option of the two. Like its video counterpart, it too stuns with crystal-clear harmonies and dialogue reproduction. Score benefits greatly from the immersive experience, filling out the rear speakers with potency. The dialogue to song vocal transitions are obvious, as they are in most musical films, but they’re never jarring.
The extras for this release include an isolated 2.0 DTS-HD music track, and for a film like this is almost essential; an audio commentary with songwriter/screenwriter Leslie Bricusse and film music historian Mike Matessino; the vintage A&E Biography special Rex Harrison: The Man Who Would Be King, which is presented full screen; the film’s original theatrical trailer in standard definition; a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue; and as always, a terrific 8-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo – always an essential read for every Twilight Time release.
If you’re an A/V fanatic seeking out only the cream of the crop, Twilight Time’s release of Doctor Dolittle should not only be on your radar, but an immediate part of your home video library. It’s a delightful film with a top of the line presentation. It also has a limited availability of 3,000 units only, so get it while you can.
- Tim Salmons