stars out of Five
Formulaic sequel aimed squarely at the younger members of the audience – well-acted, impressive effects work and a couple of laugh-out-loud gags, but ultimately nothing special.
Eddie Murphy returns as Doctor John Dolittle, still struggling with the demands of both the animal kingdom and his family - including two teenage daughters, one of whom is entering That Tricky Stage.
When he’s summoned to meet The God-Beaver (think The Godfather), he discovers that a development company are planning to cut down their forest habitat, and he’s given a few short weeks to prove that an endangered species can thrive there.
Unfortunately, this means he has to play matchmaker between hopeless circus bear Archie (Steve Zahn, sounding very much like David Spade) and worldly-wise bear-of-the-forest Ava (Lisa Kudrow) who despairs at Archie’s inability to hunt, fish or behave like a Real Bear…
As with the first film, the jokes mainly come from the animals wise-cracking and behaving like humans, so here you get the racoon-as-mobster (Michael Rapaport) and other similar gags.
In that respect, it has to be said that the effects-work is exceptional and you’ll be hard pressed to tell which bits are real animals and which bits are CGI or puppet-work.
If anything, the film suffers from a sense of ‘seen it all before’, since it doesn’t really do anything that the first film didn’t do perfectly well.
That said, there are one or two inspired laugh-out-loud moments, although the film never really hits its stride until the final stretch. There’s also a confusing element in which the dog falls for a wolf, and for some unexplained reason wolves are the only animals who appear unable to speak.
In general, then, it’s moderately amusing and well-acted, notably by Murphy and Raven-Symone, who plays his eldest daughter Charisse – their fractured relationship throws up the one genuinely touching moment of the movie, which this jaded reviewer for one, didn’t see coming.
The vocal talents are also excellent, though it all gets a little tiresome by the end. Still, kids will love it, and that’s the important thing – if you’re going to be accompanied by anyone under 12, you can go ahead and add an extra star. Worth seeing if you’ve already seen Shrek, but nothing to get too excited about.