The first novel had originally been filmed in 1967 as a musical under the same title, a closer (albeit still very loose) adaptation of the book. The earlier film was a box office bomb, but still remains a cult classic and a two-time Academy Award-winner. Although the 1998 film was rated PG-13 by the MPAA, it was marketed as a family film.
The 1998 film was a box office success, despite mixed reviews from critics. The film's success generated four sequels; Dr. Dolittle 2, Dr. Dolittle 3, Tail to the Chief, and Million Dollar Mutts, the latter three being direct-to-video.
As a boy, John Dolittle displays an ability to talk to and understand animals, starting with his pet dog. His behaviour disturbs his father Archer, who hires a local minister to perform an exorcism on his son, but after John's dog attacks him, Archer sends her away for adoption. John eventually forgets he can talk to animals.
As an adult, John is a doctor and surgeon living in San Francisco. He is happily married to his wife Lisa, and has two daughters, typical teenager Charisse, and nerdy Maya, who has a pet guinea pig named Rodney, and what she thinks is a swan egg, which she hopes will bond with her upon hatching. A large medical company owned by Mr. Calloway seeks to buy John's practice, a deal which his colleagues Mark Weller and Gene Reiss are enthusiastic about.
John's family goes on vacation, but he must return to work to see a patient, and then pick up Rodney. He nearly hits a dog, which gets up and angrily shouts at him in English. The next day, Rodney starts talking to John, who has no memory of his gift, and thinks he is having a mental breakdown. John has a CT scan after animals start asking for favours when he helps a wounded owl, and he then unwittingly adopts the dog he ran over, naming him Lucky. John starts secretly helping animals, including a suicidal circus tiger named Jake, who feels great cerebral pain. However, Lisa and Mark catch him performing CPR on a rat, and have him institutionalised.
Believing his gift is a hindrance, John rejects all abnormality in his life and returns to work, but in doing so, ostracizes Maya as well, who comes to believe he doesn’t like her. Maya admits to Archer that she liked the idea of her father talking to animals, John eavesdropping on the conversation and has a change of heart. He apologises to Lucky, and together, they steal Jake from the circus to perform surgery on him. Mark and Gene catch John, but Gene tires of the former’s opportunistic attitude and helps John. When Jake is exposed to the party for the buyout, John calmly goes on with the operation. Archer reveals to Lisa that John's gift is real, encouraging her to venture into the operating theatre and keep Jake calm whilst her husband and Gene remove the cause of Jake’s pain.
Calloway is impressed with John's talent, but he declines the deal. John becomes both a doctor and a veterinarian, embracing his ability to talk to animals. In a mid-credits scene, Maya's egg hatches, but is revealed to be a baby alligator.Eddie Murphy as Dr. John Dolittle
Raymond Matthew Mason as 3-year-old John
Dari Gerard Smith as 5-year-old John
Ossie Davis as Grandpa Archer Dolittle
Oliver Platt as Dr. Mark Weller
Peter Boyle as Mr. Calloway
Kristen Wilson as Lisa Dolittle
Kyla Pratt as Maya Dolittle
Raven-Symoné as Charisse Dolittle
Jeffrey Tambor as Dr. Fish
Richard Schiff as Dr. Gene "Geno" Reiss
Paul Giamatti (uncredited) as Blaine Hammersmith
Pruitt Taylor Vince (uncredited) as Patient at Hammersmith
The soundtrack was released on June 16, 1998 through Atlantic Records and consisted of a blend of hip hop and contemporary R&B. The soundtrack was a huge success, peaking at 4 on both the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and was certified 2× Multi-Platinum on October 20, 1998. Allmusic rated the soundtrack four stars out of five.
The soundtrack's lone charting single, "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah, also found success, making it to 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards.
- "That's Why I Lie" – 4:51 (Ray J)
- "Let's Ride" – 4:53 (Montell Jordan and Shaunta)
- "Are You That Somebody?" – 4:27 (Aaliyah)
- "Same Ol' G" – 4:21 (Ginuwine)
- "Lady Marmalade" (Timbaland Remix) – 4:03 (All Saints)
- "Da Funk" – 4:29 (Timbaland)
- "Do Little Things" – 5:09 (Changing Faces and Ivan Matias)
- "Your Dress" – 3:59 (Playa)
- "Woof Woof" – 4:11 (69 Boyz)
- "Rock Steady" – 3:05 (Dawn Robinson and Tisha Campbell-Martin)
- "In Your World" – 4:50 (Twista and Speedknot Mobstaz)
- "Lovin' You So" – 3:35 (Jody Watley)
- "Dance" – 3:38 (Robin S. and Mary Mary)
- "Push 'Em Up" – 3:46 (DJ Toomp, Eddie Kane and Deville)
- "Ain't Nothin' but a Party" – 3:57 (The Sugarhill Gang)
On its opening weekend, Dr. Dolittle earned $29,014,324 across 2,777 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #1 at the box office, the best debut for a Fox film that week. By the end of its run, the film had grossed $144,156,605 in the United States and $150,300,000 internationally, totaling $294,456,605 worldwide.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 44% score based on 51 reviews, with an average rating of 5.3/10. Metacritic reports a 46 out of 100 rating based on 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
A video game based on the film was released in Europe for the PlayStation 2 on November 29, 2006.