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My Dog Tulip (2010) ****

January 10, 2011

written by: Paul Fierlinger (screenplay) & J. R. Ackerley (book)
produced by: Howard Kaminsky, Frank Pellegrino & Norman Twain
directed by: Paul Fierlinger
not rated
83 min.
U.S. release date: Septmeber 1, 2010 (limited) & January 7, 2011 (limited Chicago Premiere at the Gene Siskel Center)
The majority of American audiences that flock to the next new animated feature each weekend are used to seeing computer-generated images that are mostly likely presented in 3D. The classic 2D approach from the big studios is almost a thing of the past. While many of those recent 3D animated movies are excellent, they don’t really offer much variety in the form of animated approach or styles. So, when a beautifully painted animated film comes along that looks like a watercolor sketch book come to life, it should really stand out.
Unfortunately, this gem will likely not be found at your local multiplex, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek it out. If and when you eventually view it, you’ll know what I mean.
The subject matter here, as you might guess from the title, is that of a love story between a man and his dog. Never is it more clearly stated than in the film’s cheeky tagline “Sometimes, love really is a bitch”. That right there is also an indication that this is not aiming for the “Tangled” crowd. Here is an animated film for adults (shocker!), or at least anyone who can handle motion-drawings of the naked human female as well as detailed depiction of canine excrement and reproduction. Yes, those two essential occurrences take place in doggy world, just as they do in ours.

Here we meet a German Shepherd dog named Tulip, a vivacious dog who enters the life of an elderly British author (exquisitely-voiced by Christopher Plummer), providing an unforgettable fifteen years that the man recounts to us. The man is J.R. Ackerley, and this is his endearing account of an unplanned companionship with a canine he adopted which turns out to be the best relationship with a living being he was ever to experience. The story is based on Ackerley’s best-selling 1956 memoir of the same name, which I had never heard of and was nevertheless delighted to see it come to life before me on-screen.  
Ackerley’s story is told as if he is sitting you down in his parlor, offering you a cigar and puffing on fondly about his pooch. He goes on as to how he came about this beautiful and intolerable eighteen-month old girl with her rapid tail wag and incessant barking. He was the first to be surprised that a man past middle-age could be so taken by Tulip. As we see him tolerate the Alsation’s mess (be it spit-up, drooling or diarrhea), deal with her going into heat (with all the local tramps she attracts), and acting as chaperone as he tries to find her a suitable stud.  
It is some of Christopher Plummer’s best work in years, live action or voice work. He brings such background to the character of Ackerley, that you feel like he really is the voice of the writer. Plummer brings a wonderment, a gentle awe for life, and a shrug-your-shoulders gruff demeanor, that comes across in a relaxing matter-of-factly manner.
Over the years, Ackerley learns a few things about the dog’s loyalty, love, and protectiveness of him, through two other women in his life. One is his sister, Nancy (a delightful Lynn Redgrave, in her last film role) who stays with the two of them for a while which reveals how possessive of her owner Tulip has become. Nancy and Tulip at times competing for the attention of the old man, but over time due to the demands of his work, the two girls are left to themselves. That’s when Ackerley imagines them having a jolly time and the two directors portray his imaginations with crude sketches that come to live, as Tulip is pictured standing on her hind legs in anthropomorphic fashion. There’s also Ms. Cavenini (Isabella Rosellini, having fun), a veritable dog whisperer whom Ackerley takes Tulip to for fear of the dog falling ill. She informs Ackerley that there’s nothing wrong with Tulip, she’s just in love with him and showing insecurities.
Directors (and husband and wife) Paul and Sandra Fierlinger create a world that is both busy and quiet, accompanied by knowing composer John Avarese. The complimentary score knows when to accentuate the quirkiness of the characters, adding plucky jazz assistance to the characters and also a reflective gentle strings to wintry white walks in the park with Tulip. The animation process is dominated by Sandra Fierlinger’s watercolors in which we see lavish colors in some scenes and in other sequences there’s a variety of grey tones. The lines used to form the exaggerated humans vary as well, providing appropriate characterization that is matched to the personality the actors give their role. What effortlessly comes to the screen is a touching; an orchestration of artistic approaches that vacillate between gorgeous displays of character along with comical adventures that will leave you with a smile.  
It’s a sentimental picture and one in which viewers, specifically dog lovers, will have an undeniable connection to. It helps that the screenplay is never too overly comical or goes out of its way to warm your heart. All that happens as we get to know these enjoyable characters. I found it absolutely hilarious that a good chunk of the film is dedicated to this man encouraging his dog’s sex life. It’s never in a perverse way either, Ackerley just wants her to have a full life, breed puppies and experience motherhood. I also appreciated how graphic (even with the sound effects) the film focuses on what comes in and out of Tulip and how much Ackerley goes out of his way to clean up after her undesirable messes. If you’ve ever looked after a dog, you’ll give an acknowledging wince to these scenes.
As previously mentioned, “My Dog Tulip” is not the kind of animated film American audiences may be used to seeing….but that’s all the more reason to see it. Like so many moments in life, it has its moments of being messy and abrupt, all with good intentions.  It’s personal, touching, and sweet in the way it simply invites us to follow these two souls who were destined to come together as one.
trailer for “My Dog Tulip”

A behind-the-scenes look with Paul and Susan Fierlinger




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