My Dog Tulip
I may talk glowingly about your bowel movements … but I really don’t mean it.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/05/2010
Directors: Paul & Sandra Fierlinger
Featuring the Voices of: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini


Will wear sandwich board for sandwich.

In this ever-shrinking global community, in the sense that we’re all beginning to frequently interact with people hundreds and thousands of miles away without stopping to think how amazing a prospect that is, it’s rare that I stop and marvel at the different lens through which other cultures view the world. However, every now and again it happens, and apparently the British are obsessed with the manner in which dogs relieve themselves – or at least, that’s the primary thing I took from the animated film, “My Dog Tulip”, based on the same-titled memoir of J.R. Ackerley.

A former literary editor for The Listener, a BBC publication that ran weekly from 1929 to 1991, Ackerley describes in great detail his 16 year relationship with Tulip, a German Shepherd he took in when she was 18 months old. In many ways, the dog was his greatest friend and directors/animators Paul and Sandra Fierlinger took it upon themselves to adapt the story into a feature film.

To voice the author/main character, enter Christopher Plummer. His stately delivery imparts an almost regal air to the story and he manages to make even the most absurd comments about Tulip’s behavior and excretions sound like a Shakespearean sonnet; though considering the subject matter, it’s more like a dirty limerick being passed through his vocal register. Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini add their recognizable lilts to the project but the film is squarely centered on Tulip and her owner.

For you budding animators out there, it may be of some interest to find out that they used a program called TVPaint to eliminate the need for drawing on paper; instead composing everything directly into the program. Although the animation largely looks like a newspaper comic strip brought to life, the Fierlinger’s used a number of other stylistic choices to add variety – whether it was utilizing a yellow notepad background and simple scribbles to intonate more lurid fantasy sequences, black and white line drawings for a glimpse into Ackerley’s memory banks, or just simplified drawings and desaturated color palettes for other imagined thoughts or trips down memory lane. While I was never enamored with any of these styles in particular, being able to switch between them here and there helped to add visual interest.

Not having read the book, I don’t know if Ackerley fails to broaden the scope of the time he spent with Tulip (whom he lovingly describes as his Alsatian bitch) but the fundamental failings of the film come from the Fierlingers spending far too much time on the issues of the manners in which dogs excrete waste and the laborious process of breeding.

While it’s an honest and initially funny element of owning a dog, I don’t need to see a man clean up his dog’s mess more than once to get the point (even in an animated film). Neither do I want a film to spend what seems like half of the running time painstakingly going over the trials and tribulations involved with finding Tulip a male dog to have puppies with. This long, drawn-out, extended, lengthy section could have easily been edited down a good ten or fifteen minutes without losing any of the emotional impact (which was lessened due to abject boredom).

Now, I’m sure 8 to 10-year olds may giggle at the sheer amount of scatological humor and dogs in heat humping one another (though their parents may not appreciate the brief section involving crudely drawn human-on-human sex), but as a pet free adult, these story elements simply don’t count as entertainment. It’s clear the book is meant as a heartfelt ode to a beloved non-human member of the family but “My Dog Tulip” is the exact opposite of succinct and those 82 minutes flew by at glacial speed. A 2 out of 5, there is some tenderness here but it’s buried deep within all the bodily functions and hormones that apparently appeal to a certain mindset that is clearly not my own (nor I suspect, that of the typical film goer).

2 out of 5