A comedy film of a similar title, Dr. Dolittle, also based on the character, was later released in 1998.
In the 19th century, in the town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England, the very patriotic Irishman Matthew Mugg (played by Anthony Newley) takes his young friend Tommy Stubbins (William Dix) to visit eccentric Dr. John Dolittle (Rex Harrison), so that he can see to an injured duck Tommy has found. Dolittle, a former doctor, lives with a house full of animals - pigs, monkeys, goats, and a talking parrot named Polynesia (voiced by Ginny Tyler) among them.
The night is stormy, so Tommy and Matthew stay with Dolittle, and he tells them the story of how he learned to speak animal languages, of which he can now speak almost 500. He explains that he was once an M.D., but even then he preferred animals to people, and kept a menagerie of them, which were causing havoc and losing him patients. After a very nasty scene with three of his patients, Dr. Dolittle's long-suffering sister, Sarah, says that he either gets rid of the animals, or she leaves. He chooses the latter. Polynesia suggests he become an animal doctor, and they start work.
The following day, a short sighted horse seeks Dolittle's optometric assistance, but the horse's owner - General Bellowes (Peter Bull) - takes offence to Dolittle's notions of talking animals and the disagreement leads to an argument in which several animals get involved. Bellowes' niece Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar) chides Dolittle for his irresponsibility and rudeness to her Uncle. She wishes she could be a man so that she could take revenge on the Doctor, but all it gets her is the nickname "Fred" given her by a mildly attracted Matthew.
Things take a turn, however, when a friend of Dolittle's from Tibet sends him the rare two-headed llama-type creature, the Pushme-Pullyu. Matthew, Stubbins and Dolittle take the creature to a nearby circus, run by the lovable yet greedy Albert Blossom (Richard Attenborough), who is uninterested at first, but eventually makes the Pushme-Pullyu the star attraction. Emma is less than enchanted by society's sudden interest in Dolittle. Meanwhile, the doctor befriends a circus seal named Sophie who longs to return to her family. He sneaks her from the circus, disguises her as a sickly old woman, and throws her into the ocean from some cliffs. However, he forgets to remove the seal's clothing. Two fisherman think the seal is a woman, and haul Dr. Dolittle off to court.
Dr. Dolittle is horrified to learn that General Bellowes is the judge; and his defense - that the seal asked him to do it - is mocked openly. Matthew, Tommy and even Emma take pity on the doctor and attempt to get him out. Dr. Dolittle proves his ability to talk to animals by staging a conversation with the General's dog. The general takes offence at what is said, however, and adjourns the court case. The next day, the General announces that Dr. Dolittle has been acquitted, because the lady who owned the stolen bonnet requested it. There is strong implication that the lady is Sarah, Dr. Dolittle's estranged sister. However, there is bad news- the judge and jury agree that Dr. Dolittle's activities with animals are unsafe, and have decided to send him to a lunatic asylum. With the help of Polynesia and the chimp Chee-Chee (Cheeta), Dolittle's friends break him out of prison and he, Matthew, Tommy and several of the animals take a ship out onto the ocean to search for the snail.
To the men's surprise (except for Matthew, who hinted that if she were to hide he wouldn't know where to look for her), Emma has sneaked on board with them and she asks to be treated as one of the crew--which she is, often stuck doing the hardest and dirtiest shipboard jobs. At dinner, Dolittle tells them the method he uses to find out where they will go - randomly sticking a pin into any page of the map and going where it tells them. Emma fails to grasp the fact that this is a serious expedition, and begs the doctor to take them to exotic locations. Matthew, who still seems attracted to Emma, joins in. Their protests are in vain, and they end up going to Sea-Star Island, a floating island.
During a fierce storm, the ship is torn apart and the group separately float, on wreckage, to a nearby island, which turns out to be Seastar Island itself. Emma has arrived on the island ahead of them. By some fortunate twist, they find her almost immediately. Dolittle and Emma, when reunited, both realize that they share an attraction with each other. Reunions are interrupted, however, by the native population who take the human members of the party captive. The group is surprised to discover that the natives, despite holding to certain superstitious traditions, are highly educated by the standards of the day, speaking excellent English and having skills in art and culture (garnered from all the flotsam and jetsam that have floated ashore from shipwrecks over the centuries). The tribe is led by a man named William Shakespeare X (a.k.a. Willy)- he gets his name from the island tradition of naming children after their favourite authors. However, they and other living things on Seastar Island are endangered by climate changes due to Seastar drifting further south than its usual course into colder waters. William becomes impressed by the doctor's knowledge, especially when Dolittle asks a blue whale to help push the island back on course. However the whale's help also pushes a revered rock into a volcanic crater, which earns the foursome a death sentence. Before it can be carried out, though, the island is pushed back to the mainland where it belongs and - for their part in it - Dolittle's team are welcomed as members of the tribe.
The group further help by making cough medicine and other medical treatments when the entire animal population of the island fall ill from the temporary climate change, and one surprising patient turns up in need of help - the Great Pink Sea Snail itself, who apparently made its home on Seastar Island. Discovering that the snail's shell is watertight and has room for several passengers in comfort, Dolittle sends Matthew, Tommy, Emma and his animals back to England. He himself cannot go back, since he is after all a wanted man; furthermore, he wishes to investigate the natives' stories of the Giant Lunar Moth, which apparently migrates back and forth between Seastar Island on Earth and the Moon, attracted by the sunlight reflected from one body after it arrives on the other. Emma is clearly distessed by this news, and tells him she will miss him and kisses him before he leaves. When she gets into the shell, she starts to cry.
A while later, Dolittle is still living amongst the tribe when Sophie the seal turns up, accompanied by her husband, with a message: the animals of England have gone on strike without him, the people have changed their views towards him, and even Bellows has agreed to pardon him if he returns home. Dolittle and the tribesfolk construct a saddle for the Giant Lunar Moth, and Dolittle flies back to England astride the great insect.
Directed by Richard Fleischer.
Alan Jay Lerner was originally chosen to write the script, but due to his tardiness in creating a screenplay, he was fired by producer Arthur Jacobs on May 7 1965. Jacobs then tried to get Richard Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, but they were tied to Walt Disney. Instead he was replaced by Lesley Bricusse who was a hot property after his success with the musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off. This gave Rex Harrison the chance to sit out his contract, and he was to be replaced by Christopher Plummer, but when Harrison agreed to stay, the producers paid Plummer his total agreed-upon salary to leave the production. The film was originally budgeted at $6 million, but the budget eventually tripled. The film's eventual $9 million box office gross was woefully inadequate to cover the budget.
The film's 1967 release was accompanied by an enormous media blitz and over a million copies of the soundtrack issued to stores. The box office loss meant that - although the film was nominated for several Academy Awards - the media blitz failed, and soundtracks from the original release could be found in "bargain bins" for decades after the movie's theatrical run.
"Naked in the rain
Doctor Doolittle what's your secret
Give it to me doctor
Don't keep it"Most likely referring to how Doctor Dolittle is with animals.
It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Music Score, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment and Best Sound.
The film was made in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. The new Discovery Hotel, now located there, has a Pink Snail Champagne Bar in honor of Dr. Doolittle. The walls of the bar are adorned with original pictures from the film.
The village scenes of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh were filmed in the village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire.