Trinidad and Tobago


Dr Doolittle Too

July 18, 2001

TODAY'S nationwide premiere of Eddie Murphy's new movie, Dr Dolittle 2, might just leave cinema owners disappointed, given last week's release of a local version, starring dog-lover Hikmet Ahamad and San Fernando Mayor Gerard Ferreira.

Murphy's comic 1998 portrayal of Dr Dolittle, redesigned Hugh Lofting's lead character, created for his classic children's stories about a vet who conversed freely with animals. Dr Dolittle grossed more than TT$1.5 billion and earned the funnyman superlative reviews.

With that combination under its belt, 20th Century Fox, who in 1967 produced the original movie version starring Rex Harrison, needed no fanfare to secure distribution deals for the sequel to Murphy's remake. As the story goes, the latest version anticipates even greater success.

But in life, timing is everything.

While Dr Dolittle 2 was still in post-production, neither the people at Fox nor the grinning Eddie knew Ferreira and Ahamad were developing their own replication of Murphy's lore. In fact, in the Trini plot, everything that could go wrong did and apparently, from page 1 of the script.

The story opens with a wide shot of once prosperous San Fernando going to the dogs and Ahamad, like Superman, flying in to rescue the city. In a spectacularly shortsighted flourish, Mayor Ferreira allows Ahamad use of residential properties, for the ostensibly noble purpose of harbouring dispossessed dogs and cats.

As any public figure knows, nothing beats aligning with a good ol' humanitarian cause. Indeed, no mayor could hope for a more appropriate gift.

After a history of insurmountable difficulty with the control of stray animals, a man turns up one morning offering to rid the city of its problem. Robert Browning's famous tale about the Pied Piper of Hamelin Town immediately comes to mind, but apparently not all of us knew how that story ended.

Already scoring big with his burgesses, for bonus points Ferreira did the politically correct thing. Caring for lost animals rivals kissing babies in the political stakes, so the mayor saw no need to exercise even normal diligence on so altruistic a gesture.

And the Environmental Management Association (EMA), normally quick to draw its decibel meter wherever soca music plays, evidently didn't perceive a comparable nuisance from scores of dogs barking simultaneously.

Conceivably, Ahamad could (if he were not of sound mind) collect strays at will and impound them by the dozen. In at least one case, a rush of enthusiasm caused him to "rescue" a properly domesticated puppy that had the temerity to step into the street; leaving its owners to come and retrieve their pet from the totally unplugged dog-catcher.

Enter a group of angry neighbours, all of voting age, who prevailed upon the elected Ferreira to have Ahamad relocate his 100 dogs and 30 cats. After all, nobody wants to pay rates and taxes for a home where the air smells like it wafted through mountains of dog-poop and across meandering streams of stale urine.

So, as the plot thickens, Ferreira takes Ahamad to court and gets a favourable ruling. That occurred since February, mark you, but the nice Mayor is less than aggressive until recently, because his Dr Dolittle has also been making efforts to set up a wildlife shelter and, perhaps more importantly, neighbours had not yet alerted the prying media.

Of course, for silently inhaling even a fortnight of the stench, the entire neighbourhood is eligible for this year's Nobel peace prize. They must also qualify for those special spiritual benefits that accrue from being kind to dumb animals, where tolerance is measured exclusively by the extent to which one can endure the noise of mating cats, or yelping dogs.

In the sum, Ahamad's attempts to alleviate risks encountered by homeless animals and help the city reduce its problem became obsessively ambitious, and eventually turned bona fide residents of the area into a seriously endangered species.

The intrigue reaches a climax as Ferreira gives Ahamad an ultimatum and calls for backup from troops at his health department who, off-camera, must have been on an extended coffee break all the while. In a final show of compassion, the magnanimous mayor promises no dog will be electrocuted, as if he got wind of an impending protest from the canine mercy committee.

You really couldn't hope for a major character with a bigger heart, sending all the right messages to children and demonstrating restraint in the most provocative of circumstances.

"We have shown a lot of goodwill out of care for the animals," he says. Clearly, the plot delivers more than one culprit, if the burden of the Mayor's benevolence favoured the predicament of stray dogs and cats over the health of people forced to live near them.

So Ahamad finally rides off into the sunset, bound for three acres of free land in Oropouche, where the animals could spend the rest of their lives eating and making manure. Now he wants Government funding to complete his sanctuary. Ferreira rises from the heap to look good in the final frame too, having engaged all the right causes and precisely on cue.

But as "The End" comes up on the screen, the audience is left to wonder who really was the leading man? Was it Ahamad the dog-catcher? Or should we take a cue from the title of the movie and ask the real Dr Dolittle to please stand up?

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