Monday, January 8, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "Talk To The Animals"

Doctor Dolittle—the 1967 movie musical adapted from the Dr. Doolittle children's books, which were loosely based on the novel Push by Sapphire—is a case study in the myriad ways a film can fail. It is also a lesson in how enough money can buy a crappy movie a slew of Oscar nominations (and even a couple wins).

Musical Theater Therapy celebrates (kinda) the 50th anniversary (almost, it's actually in April) of the time a movie with a 32% fresh rating managed to keep Cool Hand Luke, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Camelot, Barefoot in the Park, The Dirty Dozen, In Cold Blood, hell, even Two For The Road, from a Best Picture nomination.

The movie starred Rex Harrison when he was in full diva mode after winning an Oscar for My Fair Lady. Harrison anchored his private yacht in one of the shots as a way to extort additional money from the studio. The studio brought Christopher Plummer in to the location to replace Harrison and Rex took the hint and behaved. Still, is it any wonder white guys today wander around with a sense of entitlement when you've got the "anchored your private yacht in the shot to extort more money from the studio" shit as part of our recent history?

A wise person once said "never work with animals or children"–that person was the accountant at 20th Century Fox, and no one listened to him (UPDATE: or her, hash tag check your sexism). Dr. Dolittle was filled with both. Apparently the logistics of wrangling a large variety of animals are difficult to estimate (or are very easy to underestimate). The studio lost about half of the $17 million budget (which was increased from $6 million originally); the loss is equal to about $60 million today.

The loss of studio money on Dr. Dolittle merchandise ended the studio's appetite for future deals. As such, just a few years later 20th Century Fox ceded its interest in merchandising for a little film called Star Wars to its director. George Lucas is worth about $5 billion today, at least in part, because Dr. Dolittle was such a disaster.

What do you do with a musical whose "music is not exceptional" (NY Times), and that Leonard Maltin called a "colossal dud" (though to his credit Maltin recommends the movie to parents with unruly kids as a non-narcotic sleep aid)? A movie released a mere 2 months after the widely acclaimed adaptation of The Jungle Book and a year after The Sound of Music? Why you double down with the first mega campaign for Oscar (Behind the Oscar called the campaign unparalleled). You gotta spend money if you want a crap movie to get nominated.

Today's song is "Talk to the Animals" which is the only marginally redeeming song from the film, and is Leslie Bricusse's only Academy Award (and I literally had to add it to his Wikipedia entry–finally, a chance to upgrade someone instead of acting as a buzzkill) from his 9 nominations (he's responsible for some of the most forgettable Oscar nominated songs of the last 50 years, like that song from Hook and that song from The Godfather III). The song beat "The Look of Love" and "The Bare Necessities" (and 2 other reasonable contenders) for Oscar.

Today's lesson: where talent or merit or quality fail, cash succeeds.

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