Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Crackers

Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Crackers

Article excerpt

Dr Dolittle

(PG, selected cinemas)

There was a book out in America recently by Peter Biskind called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-andRock'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. According to Biskind, at the 1967 Oscars, the Best Picture nominees represented a show-down between New and Old Hollywood: Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate versus In The Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, with Dr Dolittle making up the numbers as that year's megaflop musical. Maybe it seemed that way at the time. But, 30 years on, those duelling doubles seem to have far more in common with each other than with Twister or Godzilla, and the best comment on Biskind's thesis is this: which one of the five did Hollywood choose to remake? The old animal conversationalist himself. Computer technology has finally caught up with the Pushmipullyu.

Even so, I wouldn't mind betting the old floppo '67 Doc still does better business on video than the other four nominees. A four-year-old friend of mine watches it all the time, to the despair of her parents. It is not, by any stretch, a good film: Rex Harrison wanders around doing a warmed-up Henry Higgins, with Chi-Chi the chimp subbing for Eliza; Samantha Eggar, Richard Attenborough, Anthony Newley and pretty well evervone except the guys in the Great Pink Sea Snail suit give flat performances; and the score, by Britain's Leslie Bricusse, is rather too tailored to Harrison's limitations - with the notable exception of `Talk To The Animals'.

Sammy Davis Jnr sang the song at the Academy Awards - though only once they'd agreed to postpone the ceremony until after Martin Luther King's funeral. 'I find it morally incongruous,' he said, `to sing "Talk To The Animals" while the man who could make a better world for my children is lying in state.' Two days later, Sam performed the song in his customary Nehru jacket and love-beads, punctuating Bricusse's droll laundry list about `parlaying with pachyderms' and its fun rhymes (`Speak in hippopotamus/I'd say whynotamus?') with `Sock it to me, baby!' Handing over the Best Song Oscar, Barbra Streisand, for one, looked as if she still thought it `morally incongruous': given the movie's desperate commercialism and its abysmal failure, everyone seemed to find its presence at the Oscars an embarrassment.

Well, I wonder what Barbra and co. make of Dolittle '98. Owing little to Bricusse's version and less to the original stories by Hugh Lofting, the new Do aims its sights no higher than its own ass, its tenor pretty well summed up by the talking dog during the rectal examination scene: `Why would a guy go into a line of work like that? …

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