Movie News & Reviews

'My Dog Tulip': quaint and cute but not for kids

The relationship between a man and his canine is the basis for My Dog Tulip.
The relationship between a man and his canine is the basis for My Dog Tulip.

The adorably hand-animated My Dog Tulip is based on a fictionalized memoir by English writer J.R. Ackerley.

The film features Christopher Plummer narrating the story of how Ackerley, seeking that one perfect "friend," sort of settled on a lively, sociable but utterly untrained Alsatian dog (aka 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 vein of James Thurber. 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Ackerley, a BBC editor, novelist and memoirist, puts forth some decidedly out-of-date attitudes toward dog ownership, starting with the lack of training, the myth that this somehow breaks the dog's natural spirit.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, "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.

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. 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 for anyone who's ever experienced dog ownership at its most glorious, and most embarrassing.