Friday, August 23, 2013

Dr. Dolittle Actually Did a Lot

There are so many "vegan" movies out there now, and new ones coming out all the time. It's fabulous that so much animal rights, health, and environmental information is being made available to the general public. And they're watching! More and more people are getting that their own ethics (not just those of a bunch of crazy activists) require them to rethink their beliefs and actions where animals are concerned. More and more people are connecting the dots and understanding that not only their pets, but all animals deserve to be treated with kindness, and that eating some animals while pampering others is not really consistent with their own values. It's a beautiful thing to see that light go on, and the world is getting brighter with it every day.

Recently the old Rex Harrison version of Dr. Dolittle popped into my head. I think I was looking at the Tiny House Blog, and that triggered the memory of the interior of the Giant Pink Sea Snail, a glowingly beautiful little living space that has charmed me since childhood. I added the movie to our Netflix que, and convinced Rick that he would enjoy it. I wasn't really sure he would, but he's a good sport and humored me on this one. The movie came out in 1967. It's a musical. It's long. It has an overture and an intermission. I remembered seeing it in one of those enormous, domed Century Theaters. That's about all I remembered though, and there was no guarantee it would hold up over time. Boy, was I surprised. We both were.

The original Dr. Dolittle not only holds up as a well made, gorgeously set and costumed film, it's absolutely packed with animal rights themes. The good doctor, who has some 600 animal mouths to feed, many of them in his house, declares himself (in song) a "reluctant but sincere vegetarian." His devotion to animals, to all animals, makes it impossible for him to eat them. But he does admit that he's not satisfied with his diet of leaves, apple cores, and plain bread. The poor guy! Who would be? He was totally misinformed as to what a good vegan diet is, and he was hungry. I found myself wanting to go back in time, and into fantasy land, to share with him all the marvelous foods vegans enjoy these days. For a person like him, the vast array of fake meats would have surely made him a happy, satisfied, and still sincere vegetarian.

As the film goes on, there are inconsistencies in the general animal-friendly theme. In fact, when the doctor joins a circus with his Push-Me-Pull-You, the female lead (who also brings up some feminist issues later) calls him on his hypocrisy, scolding him for claiming to care about animals, while encouraging their exploitation as trained money-makers. Amazing for 1967, I thought. And interesting too that while the point was made, the entire movie is filled with "animal actors," trained to perform. And although they were theoretically treated well, the question of training and "using" animals at all persists...

Later in the story, the good doctor has a lovely, thoughtful, insightful moment which he shares in front of an accusing courtroom, and launches into the song, Like Animals. I wonder too, why do we treat animals like animals?

I'm adding Dr. Dolittle to my list of favorite vegan animal activism films, along with EarthlingsThe Witness, and Blackfish, as soon as I have a chance to see it. It's not perfect (from an animal rights standpoint), but it's totally engaging (if you like that sort of thing) and a good conversation starter on several points. I truly enjoyed this old favorite, and I think it's still worth watching, and sharing with children as a way of introducing them to animal rights issues and veganism.

Nobody - well almost nobody - wants to hurt animals. It's hard for some people to understand that they are doing just that, and a lot of people are resistant to even watching some of the "harder" films. Wouldn't it be funny if dear old Dr. Dolittle was the one to flip the switch for someone who can't bear to sit through Earthlings?

My family used to get together for big holidays, and would sometimes have a movie going in the background, for the kids, while we waited for dinner. It might be a good tradition to start up in vegan households. A little dose of Dr. Dolittle while you wait for the vegan feast to be served might go a lot further than we think in getting our message across. Dr. Dolittle is my new hero. And oh, I do wish I could cook for him.

What's for dinner? Look in the Recipe Box!
Get 100+ recipes, sneak previews, exclusives, and dandy little printable recipe cards. Make something Positively Vegan tonight!


Jean said...

Read it, loved it, google + 'd it, and will be linking to it. From one reviewer to another: that is an excellent review. From one reader to her friend, is there no end to your amazing thought processes and insight? You are mindblowing!
Thanks for a great
Oh yeah, FB'd it and will be twittering it! :)
xox jean

Kim Miles said...

Thanks Jean! coming from amazing YOU, that means a LOT! xoxo

Imogen Michel said...

Thanks for a really interesting post! I'll definitely be watching this film again when I get the chance. I loved the books as a child and it would be great to re-experience Dr Dolittle as a vegan now.

Kim Miles said...

Love to hear your thoughts on it Imogen, after you watch it again. I think it needs to be revived as a vegan classic!

Andrea Vidal said...

Yes, but the original Dr. Dolittle, in the book, was not a vegetarian at all...