HEAT VISION

'Ninja Turtles' Director Jonathan Liebesman Tackling 'Doctor Dolittle' Reshoots (Exclusive)

'The Lego Batman Movie' helmer Chris McKay and Liebesman were brought on to help Stephen Gaghan with the Robert Downey Jr. movie.
From left: Jonathan Liebesman, Stephen Gaghan, Chris McKay   |   Getty Images
'The Lego Batman Movie' helmer Chris McKay and Liebesman were brought on to help Stephen Gaghan with the Robert Downey Jr. movie.

Dr. Dolittle is back in the operating room.

Universal is reworking its big-budget live-action/CG hybrid feature The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, the story of an eccentric doctor played by Robert Downey Jr. who can speak to animals, and is coming off of an extensive shoot overseen by Jonathan Liebesman, the helmer behind Wrath of the Titans and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Stephen Gaghan, the original director, was on set and collaborated with Liebesman, say insiders. Several sources note the process was “inclusive” and Gaghan will remain the credited director.

The new photography lasted 21 shooting days (not including new postproduction work), according to insiders, and came after an overhaul courtesy of Chris McKay, the helmer of The Lego Batman Movie.  

Sources say that it became apparent to the studio and producers Susan Downey, Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum last fall that the movie, budgeted at $175 million, needed some surgery. Gaghan is known for his Oscar-winning work on layered dramas such as Traffic and Syriana; it was his first time tackling a visual effects-heavy production that was also comedic in tone. The film features Dolittle interacting with numerous speaking animals, the latter being brought to life via computer-generated visual effects. Sources say that Gaghan’s cut didn’t catch those hybrid elements.

The studio knew more than a nip and tuck was needed when in October it pushed the release date back nine months from April 12 of this year to Jan. 17, 2020.

The studio and producers began looking for a filmmaker for the job, landing on McKay, best known for his work on Robot Chicken and The Lego Batman Movie, projects that involved unique animation looks as well as irreverent tones, the latter being a Downey hallmark.

McKay assessed the assembled cut and helped come up with new ideas while also overseeing the writing of new material. He wasn’t available for the new shoot, but did hand the baton off to Liebesman, with whom McKay worked on Ninja Turtles

“Gaghan needed help with the animal component of it all,” says one source. “These two guys who had expertise in that field, and they came in to help.”

The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle is based on the 1920s children’s books by Hugh Lofting, which was previously adapted for the big screen with Rex Harrison playing the character in 1967 and Eddie Murphy taking up the mantle for a 1998 film and a 2001 sequel.

Downey stars as the eccentric doctor who speaks to animals, with Universal assembling an all-star lineup to round out the cast, most of whom are providing voices to the animals: Selena Gomez, Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Rami Malek, Craig Robinson, Marion Cotillard, Frances de la Tour and Carmen Ejogo.

Reshoots, or additional photography as the process is sometimes now called, has become more commonplace in recent years given the rise of tentpole franchise filmmaking, a process that regularly churns out visual effects-heavy productions that is only half completed during principal photography and really begins to take form during postproduction.

Some rides are smoother than others but productions now build in contingencies for casts to return when needed for additional shooting. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an example of a movie that faced a major overhaul and still became a critical and commercial hit. Justice League is another title that faced challenges, with Joss Whedon stepping in for Zack Snyder.

Disney’s Jungle Cruise, which is slated to open in July 2020, will be undergoing a round of additional photography soon, as will Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. The latter is set to bow July 5.

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