The adorably hand-animated “My Dog Tulip” is based on a fictionalized memoir by the English writer J. R. Ackerley.
The film features Christopher Plummer plummily narrating the story of how Ackerley, seeking that one perfect “friend,” sort of settled on a lively, sociable but utterly untrained Alsatian (German shepherd) named “Tulip.” He fell for this dog and her kind, marveling that any creature could “find the world so wonderful.” She “came into my life and transformed it.”
With sketchy, under-animated animation directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, “My Dog Tulip” comes to life as a quaint, cute and decidedly NOT for children cartoon in the James Thurber vein. It’s a period piece, as the narrator recalls his post World War II efforts, or lack thereof, to train and share his life with a big, beautiful dog that is madly in love with him. Ackerley, a BBC editor, novelist and memoirist, puts forth some decidedly out of date attitudes toward dog ownership, starting with the lack of training, the myth that this somehow breaks the dog’s natural spirit. The veterinarian who earns scorn for asking “Have you no control over your dog?” might well be dealing with “Marley & Me,” for all Tulip and her owner care. Another vet (voiced by Isabella Rosselini) complains that “Tulip’s a good girl, you are the problem.” Not that Tulip’s owner does anything about it.
Then there’s the matter of breeding, which the movie obsesses on. The dog can’t be “complete” somehow unless she’s had sex and the ensuing litter of puppies, which our narrator quickly realizes is an attitude whose time is long past.
If there’s a fault to the film, with its adventurous scenes of upheaval as the dog makes enemies and a mess wherever she goes. However much Ackerley himself focused on the unsavory aspects of dog doo and canine reproduction, the filmmakers see no end of amusement in the various ways humans pitch in to help dogs out. It’s positively juvenile, even if it is encased in a wry, elderly English accent.
Still, the dry wit of it all, the whimsical drawings and the vivid sense of a time and place in which Britons were loathe to refer to anything “German,” especially their dogs, make this a wonderful movie anyone who’s ever experienced dog ownership at its most glorious, and most embarrassing.
See for Yourself
“My Dog Tulip”
Cast: the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave
Directors: Sandra and Paul Fierlinger
Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes
Rating: R for language and brief nudity.