September 28, 2010 22 Comments
I have always preferred animals to people. Perhaps growing up with dogs as a child and having my own dogs since then have helped to perpetuate this feeling. There is something to be said for having a long, miserable day at work and coming home to a furry, four-legged friend wagging its tail, wanting nothing more than to shower you with wet, sloppy kisses and having its tummy rubbed. This is unconditional love…an ideal picture that comes to mind when I think of the old adage, “man’s best friend.” Some of my most favorite moments of the day are at night when I am curled up on the couch with my pug, Lily, watching a movie together, or the night’s ballgame. These are quiet moments, but, snuggled up against one another, the connection is always there and never taken for granted.
So it goes without saying that I was very much looking forward to seeing Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s delightfully heartfelt and at times, profound animated film, My Dog Tulip. The film is based on the acclaimed 1956 memoir by the British writer, J.R. Ackerley and chronicles the old bachelor’s real-life 15-year relationship with his German shepherd, Tulip (named Queenie in the book). The film begins with a witty quote from the author — “Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs” — and manages to maintain this clever wit throughout the film.
In short, My Dog Tulip tells the story of a very unlikely friendship between a cloistered human and his devoted animal. Ackerley was already in his 50′s when Tulip entered his life. He worked as a writer for the BBC and, somewhat a loner, never really had much in the way of friends. He certainly never had his own dog before. That is, until he took the 18-month old German shepherd from a family that couldn’t really handle her and kept her locked up for most of the day. In doing so, he obviously takes on much more than he ever expected.
The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer (as Ackerley) and chronicles much of their life together. From their long walks together and trips to various vets (one voiced by Isabella Rossellini), to a tug-of-war battle of wits with Ackerley’s meddling sister (Lynn Redgrave, in her last role) over Tulip’s affection to trying to find a mate for Tulip — it is all accompanied by what Ackerley’s most innermost thoughts are concerning his kindred spirit, and done so with such candor, insight and good humor. Plummer does an exceptional job narrating the story — and really, who couldn’t sit and listen to that wonderful voice for 83 minutes?
I must say that I feel we have all been spoiled with the “newer” animated films that have come out the last few years in that they take full advantage of all that technology has to offer. Most of these computer-generated films look quite impressive and dazzle the eye with its uncanny resemblance to real-life images. It was enormously refreshing to see the handmade animation used for My Dog Tulip. About 60,000 drawings went into the making of this film — though no paper or plastic was used. Taking 3 years to make, the Fierlingers used computers for their drawings and, unlike studio cartoons, the result is a more antiquated looking quality to the art. The drawing itself though is wondrous to watch — at times funny and at others, really delving into the psychological images of what our narrator is thinking.
Of course, dog lovers will enjoy and appreciate this film more so than others. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone who doesn’t love our little canine friends as they might simply be bored and not “get” the whole “dog thing.” For those who love dogs, but are afraid to see any movie about animals fearing that it might be too sad, I would say (without using any spoilers here) to fear not. The film never borders on the tragic and does not touch on morose subject matter. However, the film is not for children. Not only is most of the humor on a more “intellectual level” than most animated films, but there are also a number of images illustrated and feelings expressed that may not be suitable for children. What the film does is show (very well) the inseparable bond between Ackerley and Tulip — a closeness that he never thought he’d ever experience in his life. Tulip provides this for him, and seeing that warms the heart. In speaking of his ever-faithful dog, Ackerley tells us, “She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.” A sincere and thoughtful remark — and a charming, funny and intelligent little film.