Robert Downey Jr., fresh out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is pinning his hopes for another franchise on literature’s most famous zoomanitarian.
In the first trailer for “Dolittle,” opening early next year, the “Avengers: Endgame” star slips into a straw top-hat to play John Dolittle, the fictional doctor famed for shunning all human contact in favor of the animals with whom he can communicate in their native languages. (His “Avengers” co-star Tom Holland is along for the ride, voicing a dog named Jip.)
As a hushed cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” (by Calgary indie-folk group Reuben and the Dark) plays in the background, the trailer introduces a colorful menagerie of creatures, from parrots to Capuchin monkeys, all circling Dolittle, who seems a tad closer to Indiana Jones than the kindly eccentric first played by Rex Harrison in 1967’s “Doctor Dolittle.”
“We have no choice to embark on this perilous journey,” whispers Downey at one point, after which the trailer teases a battle on the high seas involving pirates – presumably led by a glowering, pistol-wielding Antonio Banderas. From initial appearances, the movie – co-written and directed by Babson-educated filmmaker Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic”) – is primarily adapting 1922’s “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle,” the second of 10 novels featuring the character by British author Hugh Lofting.
The live-action cast for “Dolittle” includes Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, and up-and-comers Harry Collet (“Dunkirk”) and Jessie Buckley (“Chernobyl”). Even starrier is the voice cast, a who’s who of A-listers playing various animals, from Selena Gomez as a giraffe to Rami Malek as an anxious gorilla. We don’t hear from West Newbury’s own John Cena in the teaser, but the WWE-star-turned-actor will voice a polar bear who nickers with a cynical ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Short”).
Ralph Fiennes, Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Frances de la Tour, Marion Cotillard, Carmen Ejogo, and Craig Robinson also lend their voices to various critters encountered by Downey during his travels. “Dolittle” opens Jan. 17.