Dr. Dolittle 2

Yes, there is a scene in “Dr. Dolittle 2” in which a bear has a sudden bowel attack while sitting on a toilet. Yes, this scene is disgusting, a word that Hollywood now considers to be a synonym for “funny.” No, I don’t know when this trend will ever stop.

The good news is, that scene is almost an isolated incident in a film that is otherwise pretty harmless, family-friendly and laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, there are jokes about urine (because hey, that’s what dogs do), and one or two references to animals mating (because hey, that’s what animals do), but they’re mild. I never thought I would describe a movie in which a bear sits on a toilet as “refreshing,” but this one has a genuine charm to it.

Eddie Murphy returns after the 1998 blockbuster as Dr. John Dolittle, a physician who for some reason can talk to animals. He’s a celebrity now, and animals come from all over to seek his help, since he’s the only human who can understand them.

The film begins with a visit from a raccoon, who’s actually an emissary for the “godbeaver,” the head of the animal Mafia (“Hey, we don’t know nothing about no Mafia,” the raccoon says hastily). He and his family are concerned about a plan to bulldoze the forest in which they live, and Dr. Dolittle realizes that if he can find an endangered species living there, he can stop the destruction.

There is, in fact, only one female left of a particular breed of bear; however, there’s a male still alive, too, working as a circus performer. If Dolittle can get the male bear readjusted to life in the wild, and get him to mate with the female, the forest will have to be protected.

The circus bear is Archie (voice of Steve Zahn), a diva who hasn’t the first clue how to forage, hunt or swim. He’s a performer: “I’m a singer, a dancer, three years of tap, two years of jazz,” he tells us. Much of the film is devoted to Dolittle trying to re-teach him, while simultaneously introducing him to the female, Ada (Lisa Kudrow). There’s even a montage, accompanied by music, in which the bears fall in love with each other, which must be a first for a live-action film.

Eddie Murphy gets to do a little of his Eddie Murphy shtick, but he mostly plays the part close to the vest and under control. The humor lies in the animals and in their interaction with him and each other. The voice-over work is splendid, demonstrating that actors have learned such a gig is more than showing up at a studio and saying words; it’s a real role, with possibilities for exploration, ad-libbing and characterization.

The movie falters with its subplot, which pertains to Dolittle’s strained relationship with his 16-year-old daughter Charisse (Raven-Symone), who is embarrassed by her dad’s freakish ability. Those scenes, to be blunt, are sappy. Portraying the land developers (played by Kevin Pollak and Jeffrey Jones) as greedy and evil is a little obvious, too, though one supposes it wouldn’t be a children’s film without a clear-cut villain who has no shades of gray.

No, this is not brilliant work. For a family comedy, and especially for a sequel, though, it’s surprisingly strong. Thank goodness that bear finally learns that the woods are where he’s supposed to do his business.

B (; PG, some very mild profanity and crude.)