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?
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.
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