‘Dolittle’ and the Dragon: A Teachable Moment

During my long association with dogs, I’ve been to several different veterinarians. One office had a peculiar display that included things that  had been extracted from dogs. Gastrointestinal obstruction in dogs (and cats) is cause for concern and can lead to death. For that reason, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the dragon featured in Robert Downey Jr.’s “Dolittle.”

Rex Harrison’s outing featured whimsical creatures that came from the books–a giant sea snail or the whimsical pushmi pullyu. I was already in love with llamas when I saw the 1967 version on TV, and had a hatred for snails in the garden. A dragon is something that I also love. But in real life, I am devoted to dogs and this particular dragon can help real-life dogs.

This scene where Dolittle confronts and saves the dragon has been singled out by a few critics. Film’s Hoai-Tran Bui wrote “This is a movie that features a scene in which Dolittle sticks a leek up a dragon’s ass to dislodge skeletons, pieces of armor, and what looks to be the entire Spanish Inquisition. At the end, the dragon rewards him with a tender thank you and a long, drawn-out fart in his face.”

For me, the Spanish Inquisition, a time when Jews were persecuted, didn’t come to mind. Alonso Duralde writing for The Wrap, wrote: “Rex Harrison famously endured getting urinated upon by real sheep during the filming of the 1967 musical ‘Doctor Dolittle,’ while the 2020 version of ‘Dolittle’ sees Robert Downey Jr. removing bagpipes from a CG dragon’s rectum before receiving a face full of gastric wind as a reward. Whichever actor had it worse, it’s the audience who loses.” That seems like mixed metaphors. Sheep urinating is a common reality on the farm and not particularly noteworthy in a country where at any moment, you can see horses urinating while the uniformed soldiers on them keep a stiff upper lip and stand in the saddle. Having had a year’s worth of sheep herding lessons I can tell you this means nothing.

However, for children the dragon scene is a teachable moment. Dogs and cats, particularly when they are young, are known for eating things they shouldn’t. Bowel obstruction can be serious and result in death.

In recent years, what’s in the stomach of wild animals has become an issue, singling out the devastating effects that pollution by plastic can have. Last year, a deer was found with 15 pounds of plastic garbage in its stomach. A baby dolphin died from plastic consumption. Another dolphin consumed a plastic shower hose.

Zoo have at times been force to euthanize animals because of the weird things their visitors throw in the enclosures. Sometimes, as in the 2019 case of a beloved otter, the food is something that the animal can’t tolerate like grapes. In 2013, a giraffe died with 40 pounds of garbage in its stomach. In the Shanghai Zoo, litter thrown into enclosures has resulted in the death of deers. This has also happened in the United States. At the St. Louis Zoo, a polar bear died from blockage caused by plastic and cloth.

In “Dolittle,” the dragon survives and helps the doctor find the cure for the poisoned young Queen Victoria. In the wild, few animals are so lucky. According to the Atlanta Zoo:

Plastics account for roughly 1 billion bird deaths each year, and around two-thirds of fish populations test positive for plastics. Plastic is not just a threat to wildlife; as plastic debris floats around the ocean, it begins to soak up harmful chemicals such as DDT that have leached into the ocean. In turn, when fish eat these plastics they are then contaminated themselves. Humans are then put in potential risk of ingesting chemicals that have been linked to impaired immunity, endocrine and cancer-related issues.

Plastic like metal are durable material. The armor and bagpipes used in the film “Dolittle” are somewhat comical, but does touch upon a growing environmental concern for our times. It is one that animal-loving kids could take as a lesson they apply at home with their beloved pets and the film “Dolittle” as with its previous iterations, is meant for kids who love animals so much they wish they could literally talk to them. Few lessons can be learned from an imaginary giant sea snail or the whimsical pushmi pullyu. But a dragon with a bowel obstruction resulting from eating inappropriate things is a teachable moment that can be readily applied to real life.  And, yesterday, on what became on Twitter, #AppreciateADragonDay, having experienced the tragedy of losing a precious dog to bloat caused by an obstruction in the stomach, I can’t think of the dragon, Ginko-Who-Soars (voiced by Frances de la Tour)   in “Dolittle” as a negative thing.


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