Remember Dolittle? It only came out a couple of weeks ago but it feels like an entire age has passed since then. Robert Downey Jr. made his first big post-Avengers movie with this long-time passion project adaptation of the children’s novels, even though it seemed like nobody was entirely sure why he wanted to or who this movie was for. As of the writing of this article, Dolittle has grossed just under $47 million domestically and $47 million internationally — oh, the symmetry — which brings its worldwide total to around $93.8 million. For a movie with a reported budget of $175 million, that’s obviously not great. What went wrong? The Hollywood Reporter got its sources to spill all in a new piece, and boy, it’s juicy.
With Universal now expecting a loss upwards of $75 — 100 million on Dolittle, fingers are being pointed at who to blame for this mess. The article notes how the studio seemed aware of the trouble they had in their hands once they moved its release date from May 2019 to January 2020, a.k.a. the box office dumping ground.
As with many failed blockbusters, the issue of too many cooks spoiling the broth was on full display here, as the piece describes:
While there were studio hands and veteran producers such as Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum involved with the production, insiders say it was Downey and Susan Downey, his wife and producing partner, that primarily held creative control.
Stephen Gaghan, director of Oscar-winning political drama Syriana, was brought on board to helm this potential franchise starter, but his first cut left a lot to be desired.
When in fall 2018 the studio saw the first cut […] executives identified several problems. The assembled version was said to not feel like a family movie; it lacked comedic elements and, considering it was about talking animals, a fair amount of special effects. It became apparent, a source close to the project stresses, that “this is not the kind of movie he should have directed. People backed him thinking, ‘We’ll surround him with the best teams,’ but at a certain point it became clear this wasn’t working. And by then it was too late. And it was all hands on deck.”
In fairness, I’m not sure how the guy best known for mega depressing social realism and political trauma was ever considered an appropriate choice for a movie like this, especially since it required extensive CGI and a particular tone outside of his wheelhouse. To bring some fizz to the reshoots, Universal turned to Seth Rogen for advice and he recommended screenwriter Brendan O’Brien. They then turned to Chris McKay of The Lego Batman Movie for advice on reshoots. He helped to storyboard a few more cost-effective and family-friendly edits, but stepped away once he got the chance to direct his own movie from scratch. Then, Robert Downey Jr. decided to step up to the plate and share some of his dazzling ideas. One insider described him as being up for trying ‘anything and everything’, with another saying, ‘When Iron Man tells you something, you listen to Iron Man.’ That goes a long way to explaining perhaps the best and most memorable line in the article:
Despite a course having been set for the film’s third-act climax, Downey charted a path for a new direction. Several sources say it was the actor-producer who came up with the idea of the dragon colonoscopy/enema moment at the last minute. He and his reps declined to comment for this story.
I hope we can all treasure that paragraph and keep it in our hearts always. Don’t argue with it. Don’t try to understand it. Just let it wash over you like a heady dragon fart.
The piece is quick to stress that the production was ‘not a toxic set’ despite the drama, which refutes some pre-release gossip that claimed that RDJ and Gaghan hated one another. However, it seems that everybody united to bring us the majesty of Doctor Dolittle removing a set of bagpipes from the constipated dragon. According to the piece, the original cut featured more stools. You win some, you lose some.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.