If you believe that animals really are little people in fuzzy suits — and what small child doesn’t? — then the innocuous anthropomorphic high jinks of Dr. Dolittle 2 will make you very happy indeed. If you’re a parent looking to blow 81 minutes on a sequel that painlessly combines cute talking critters, a hug-a-tree message broad enough for a 2-year-old to catch, and a few de rigueur poop jokes, here’s your cinematic babysitter. And if you’re a person who thinks animals is animals — and that providing them with digitally animated lips so they can crack ”Whasssup?” jokes is wishfully misguided humanoid thinking — well, the feral bipeds of Sexy Beast are showing around the corner.
Once again, Eddie Murphy plays the beguiling buppie straight-man M.D. who talks to the animals; he gives a reined-in performance that, every so often, shows a spark of the Shrekish donkey within. The plot of Dr. Dolittle 2, though, is pure kiddie-matinee stuff, involving the doctor’s efforts to save a tract of forest from meanie loggers by coaxing an endangered-species circus bear to shed his citified ways and pitch woo to an ursine wild honey. The cast of human actors behind the animatronic lips provides a modicum of delight to demi-celeb spotters: Steve Zahn (Happy, Texas) and Friends’ Lisa Kudrow give the romantic bears eccentric voice, and everyone from Isaac Hayes (a possum) to Andy Dick (a weasel) to Joey Lauren Adams (a squirrel) has fun with their respective animal correlatives.
But you don’t have to be a card-carrying PETA member to get the uneasy sense that the loggers aren’t the only ones exploiting nature: It’s there in the fake forest sets and in the stunts that Tank the bear rotely, obligingly turns for his offscreen trainer. If only the story’s essential fantasy were true: I bet the animal reaction to Dr. Dolittle 2 would be biting.