THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I liked the original Eddie Murphy remake of Dr. Dolittle. It was sweet natured and clever, although the parade of jokes about animal bathroom habits got old after a while. Dr. Dolittle 2 (or D.2 as the ads proclaim with faux hipness) was admittedly not high on my want-to-see list, especially when I heard that the plot involved Dolittle trying to convince two bears to mate. Good grief, I thought, 90 minutes of jokes about animals having sex. To my very pleasant surprise, the sequel eschews most of the scatological and sexual humor in favor of something else: wit.

Murphy is again the famous doctor who talks to the animals. His family struggles with the same issues that all families face. In particular, Dolittle is stymied by his daughter Charisse (Raven-Symone). She locks herself in her room with headphones on and is reachable only via cel phone. Charisse has come to resent the fact that her father spends more time with the animals than with her. To make up for it, Dolittle promises to take the family to Europe for a month. Just as they are about to leave, he is visited by a raccoon (voiced by Michael Rapaport) who comes in search of help.

It seems a local forest - one that provides a home to a wide variety of creatures - is about to be plowed over by loggers and land developers. The raccoon, working in conjunction with an animal mafia led by a "god-beaver," wants Dolittle to somehow save the forest. Upon discovering that there is one female bear of an endangered species living there, he comes up with an idea. If he can get a male bear to impregnate her, the land will have to be declared a sanctuary.

The only male bear of the type he can find is Archie (Steve Zahn), a "show bear" who dances and rides a unicycle in a sideshow act. Determined to try, Dolittle takes Archie into the woods and introduces him to the female, Eva (Lisa Kudrow). She is none too impressed, but agrees to meet Archie again in a few weeks to see if he can be the kind of bear she needs. Dolittle is suddenly an animal Dr. Ruth, teaching Archie how to attract the ladies.

Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) discovers that Archie the bear would rather kick back and watch television than discover the wonders of life in the wilderness
As before, Dr. Dolittle 2 has famous actors voicing the animals. In addition to the aforementioned examples, we also hear Arnold Schwarzenegger as a wolf, Norm Macdonald as a dog, and Isaac Hayes as a possum. The casting here is perfect (Andy Dick as a weasel? You betcha.), and a big reason for the film's success is the wittiness of that casting. Zahn (Out of Sight, Saving Silverman) is hilarious as the bear who is insecure about his manhood but overly confident about his showbiz prospects. I also liked Rapaport as the raccoon. When the god-beaver offers Dolittle a fish and the doctor declines, the raccoon tensely shouts: "Hey, the beaver offers you a fish, you take the fish!"

There are a lot of smart, funny references to other movies and movie genres in Dr. Dolittle 2, including a brief nod to, of all things, Hannibal. The actors give the animals personalities, which makes the screenplay's jokes pop off the screen. Another moment that made me laugh was when the raccoon offers some advice to Dolittle, who is trying to enjoy a romantic evening with his wife. "Give her some garbage," he intones in his weird Brooklyn accent. "Chicks dig garbage!"

I suppose there are those who will see the film as being more for kids than adults. I think it can be enjoyed by anybody looking for a good comedy. Murphy is a surprisingly effective straight man to the animals, sacrificing most of the good lines to his costars without fading into the scenery. The movie has fun with the idea of Dolittle playing matchmaker to the bears. Rather than going for "naughty" humor, it contrasts the plight of Archie to attract Eva to the plight of Dolittle trying to be a good dad to his daughter.

A few years ago, I wrote an article in this magazine complaining that comedies had become too soft. Today, they seem to be tripping over their own feet to out-gross each other. Dr. Dolittle 2 is a reminder that there's common ground. You can be funny without being edgy, hip without being self-obsessed. I like the warmth and humor of the picture. And if they ever want to make another sequel about the raccoon and the mafia, I'll be the first in line.

( out of four)

Dr. Dolittle 2 is rated PG for language and crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.
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