Dr Dolittle 2 : Production Notes

Dr. Dolittle - Movie PosterIn 1998, Dr. Dolittle delighted audiences young and old around the world with its comic re-invention of Hugh Lofting's classic children's stories about a kind-hearted doctor who has the ability to converse with animals.

Eddie Murphy's renowned comedic talents put a fun and edgy spin on the character, and the film utilized state-of-the-art computer generated effects to give each of the animals a unique personality.

The mix worked - beyond expectations. In a career marked by such landmark comedy hits as 48 Hours (1982), Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Nutty Professor, the (1996), Dr. Dolittle gave Eddie Murphy perhaps his greatest audience response. "Of all the movies I've done, I get the most feedback on Dr. Dolittle," Murphy comments. "No matter where I am - all over the world - kids and teens would come up to me and say, 'Hey, Dr. D!'"

With that kind of success, it's no surprise that Murphy was approached to do another Dolittle film. Murphy's own children were certainly another incentive for him to revisit the role. "My kids loved my first Dolittle film so much," he remembers. "The film reminded them and me of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, where people and animals all talk to each other. I think that's part of the reason my kids, and young people all over the world, responded so strongly to Dr. Dolittle. "

Dr. Dolittle producer John Davis' family also responded strongly to the film. "You're always happiest when your children come up to you and say, 'Dad, I loved that movie, it was totally cool,'" Davis comments. "That's what was most exciting for me about making that film. "

Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001)Davis, Murphy and screenwriter Larry Levin (who co-wrote the 1998 Dolittle) embraced the challenges and opportunities of following up the worldwide phenomenon. Having introduced the characters three years earlier, they were now able to expand the premise's comedic possibilities and examine how Dolittle's talents affect his family and his animal friends.

"Our first Dolittle was about him realizing that he has this gift and how he comes to grips with it," Murphy explains. "Now that the world knows he can talk to animals, how is it going change his relationship with his family, and how is he going to use his special talents?"

"We knew we had to top our first Dr. Dolittle," adds John Davis. "So the new film has a larger canvas, a bigger array of animals, and even more special effects. We wanted a movie that was not only really funny, but also had a heart and was about something."

To that end, Larry Levin, who has long been active in environmental causes, fashioned a story about Dolittle coming to the aid of animals trying to protect their wilderness home. "Since we've already established the idea of talking animals, I thought it would be interesting to explore the theme of the vanishing wilderness through the point of view of these animals," Levin explains.

He then came up with Dolittle's plan of action to save the animals' home, and the comic possibilities of a new 'savior.' "A circus bear is the least likely creature to be 'rehabilitated,'" Levin point out. "So I created the character of Archie, who's basically a performer who's used to playing small venues, but wants to be a star. " But Archie didn't plan on his new audience - a forest full of skeptical animals - being this large.

To bring together the project's elements of humor, heart, and a larger scale, Davis and Twentieth Century Fox turned to director Steve Carr, who had impressed the Hollywood community with his award-winning video work and feature directorial debut, the popular comedy Next Friday (2000).

Carr was in sync with Davis' and Levin's take on the story. "We wanted the script to be written as if the story were being told by a guy born on 23rd Street," says Carr. "A movie that keeps animals as animals, but gives us a peek into what they'd be like if they were people. "

With the script in place, the filmmakers begin the casting process. Their first task was to reunite Murphy with his "family" from the first film, and they were pleased when Kristen Wilson, raven-Symone and Kyla Pratt all agreed to reprise their roles as, respectively, Dolittle's wife and two daughters.

New to the Dolittle's world are veteran character actors Kevin Pollak and Jeffrey Jones, who play devious land developers looking to turn the animals' forest into condominiums, plus recording artist Lil' Zane, who plays older daughter Charisse's new boyfriend, Eric.

Lil' Zane's role creates what Carr terms a "meeting of the generations" - and a first in an Eddie Murphy film. Carr explains: "During an early scene, Eric picks up Charisse for a date, and when he meets her father, Dr. Dolittle, he calls him 'Pops. ' When I first read that I thought, 'Pops? Eddie Murphy from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and 'Saturday Night Live' and Trading Places (1983) as a 'Pops'? But I came to appreciate the conflict of the generations between Dolittle and Eric, and Dolittle and his now teenage daughter. "

Carr had previously worked with the 18-year-old Lil' Zane on a music video, an experience had left a lasting impression on the director. "I swear I thought I was doing a video with the Beatles," Carr remembers. "There were kids running all over, chasing him around."

As with the 1998 Dr. Dolittle, much of the humor of the new film rests with the actors who voice the animals. "We wanted the voices to have a fresh, hip, edgy style," notes Davis. "To have Eddie riffing with a dozen or so of some very funny and very talented people. " Steve Zahn, who voices Archie, the junk-food-loving, mate-seeking bear, loved the idea of working on a film starring Eddie Murphy, despite recording his part separately from him. "Eddie's a legend in comedy, and he's an amazing actor," Zahn states. "He's someone whose work I know - someone whose work I grew up with - and that helped me voice the role, even though I was by myself in a recording studio. "

The film also features the voice talents of Lisa Kudrow as Ava, the object of Archie's affections; Phil Proctor, reprising his Dr. Dolittle role as an intoxicated monkey; Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and pop star Mandy Moore as bear cubs; Michael Rapaport as Joey the Mafioso raccoon, Andy Dick as Lennie, a Mafioso weasel; Bob Odenkirk, Jamie Kennedy and David Cross as canines seeking therapy, Traffic (2000)'s Jacob Vargas as a frustrated chameleon, and Renee Taylor as a randy tortoise.

This formidable lineup complements the work of Dr. Dolittle 2's over-250 four-legged cast members, representing nearly seventy different species from the North America wilderness. Wolves, giraffes, possums, raccoons, dogs, and owls all crowded the soundstages at Twentieth Century Fox, patiently awaiting their close-ups and direction from Steve Carr (or their respective trainers).

But one animal, making his motion picture debut, stood out: Tank, a 7-foot-tall, 800-pound bear, who beat out over 50 competitors for the coveted role of Archie, the would-be savior of an endangered forest. "Tank really is special," says Davis of Hollywood's newest four-legged find. "It was sometimes difficult to realize that he was a bear, and not human. "

Tank's trainer, Doug Seus, is a Hollywood veteran and one of entertainment industry's most respected animal handlers. Previously, Seus trained Bart, a 9-foot, 1500 pound bear known to his fans as "the John Wayne of bear actors" and whose numerous screen credits include Edge, the (1997) and Legends of the Fall (1994). Tank is the successor to Bart, who succumbed to cancer last year at age 23.

Despite the many trappings of Hollywood stardom, including his own private area in the Fox parking lot, Tank impressed cast and crew with his very non-diva-like behavior. "Tank is by nature a lovable, easy going, kick-back kind of bear," notes Seus. "He accepts life as it is; he just has a great attitude. By nature, all bears are easily frustrated, and Tank has that quality, too. But he gets over it quickly. "

Tank and his bear colleagues (including another Sues-trained bear cub, Little Bart, also making his film debut) usually respond to food, including apples, chicken, carrots, even dry dog food. However, since Dr. Dolittle 2 was filmed in the fall-winter months, during which a bear's metabolism and appetite slow, Seus and his team had to find other methods to get Tank to perform. Positive reinforcement and playtime were the answers. After each take, the trainers would call the bear a "good boy. "

The rest of the crew also got caught up in the process. "Tank would complete a take, then sit there, and there would be a chorus of 'Good boy, good boy' that would last fifteen minutes," Carr laughs. "If I had received that much positive reinforcement, I'd be president. "

To facilitate Tank's performance, as well as the safety of the cast (animal and human) and crew, the Dr. Dolittle 2 filmmakers went into what they called "bear mode. " Since bears are easily distracted by and sensitive to smells, the crew was asked to wear no cologne, perfume, or scented deodorants, and not to bathe with scented soap. Food was not allowed on set, and the crew was discouraged from having mints or gum in their pockets.

Bears prefer to work solo, so the filmmakers employed both high tech (motion control cameras that filmed the animals separately, later creating a composite shot) and low-tech (ammonia, to cut the smell of other bears) for one of the film's comic highpoints: a spoof of the Scared Straight documentaries, in which two circus bears try to scare Tank/Archie into realizing that it's better on the "outside."

Even with Tank's and the other animal's considerable talents, they needed a little Hollywood magic to "talk." So, special effects house Rhythm & Hues, Inc. used state-of-the art digital animation techniques to animate the creatures' mouths and provide myriad combinations of facial twitches and movements, giving the animals surprising and humorous emotions.

For a few shots of Archie, the filmmakers used an intricate animatronic animal, which took up to five people to operate. But most of what audiences will see on screen are Tank and the other animals themselves, as Steve Carr is quick to point out. "I would say at least ninety percent are real animals. Animal movements are part of nature; you can't reproduce them, no matter how hard you try. "

Carr came to appreciate the animals and their abilities, if not their work ethics. Patience was not only a virtue, but a fact of life on the Dr. Dolittle 2 set. Over fifty people, most of them animal trainers, often were needed to help Carr get a good animal take. "A huge percentage of our work was waiting for the animals to do what they're trained to do," says Carr. "And the patience that was needed well, it felt at times as if it were Herculean. "