Based on a 1956 memoir of the same name by British writer J.R. Ackerley, "My Dog Tulip" is an animated film about Ackerley's relationship with a German Shepherd named Tulip that he acquired when he was "quite over 50". At the time, Ackerley, a lonely bachelor who wasn't much of a dog-lover, had all but given up on his search for an "ideal friend", which I didn't realize until later actually meant "ideal BOYfriend". Once he adopts the rambunctious 18-month-old Tulip, his life changes completely.
Before I continue, a bit of a disclaimer: I'm very much a dog person. I currently have two dogs of my own and I'm the occasional guardian of two others, including a very handsome German Shepherd like Tulip. I've loved at least four dogs before the current pack, including one other dog of my own and a childhood puppy that was sent to "live on a farm" while I was off at school one day. I tell you this so you'll understand the point of view from which this review is written. If I were on an awards committee in which "Tulip" was a nominee, I'd have to seriously consider recusing myself. End of disclaimer.
Ackerley (voiced by Christopher Plummer), is almost immediately smitten with Tulip, despite her complete lack of social skills due to spending her entire puppyhood confined to a small backyard. He's fascinated by her unbridled enthusiasm for the world around her (which stands in sharp contrast to his own misanthropy) and becomes a keen observer of her behavior on their many walks.
As Ackerley soon finds out, almost everything a dog does in its waking hours involves bodily functions so these become the primary focus of his observations, and indeed, the primary focus of the movie. Tulip often chooses unacceptable places to "leave her deposits" (this is the pre-poop bag era), causing Ackerley to have uncomfortable run-ins with the town's denizens. He also becomes quite interested in Tulip's urination habits, cataloguing both her various styles and favorite targets. But the bulk of the film covers Ackerley's various attempts to breed Tulip.
Before you go all ASPCA on me about the irresponsibility of backyard breeding, let me remind you that standards have changed since the 1940s. I'm not sure why exactly Ackerley is so dead-set on breeding Tulip, but I think it's something along the lines of allowing her to experience the joy of motherhood. In any event, his various attempts to fix her up with a suitable mate are described in great detail, and occasionally border on doggie pornography. The thing is, no matter what it is that Plummer says, it always sounds quite dignified; it's simply not possible for him to sound coarse with his sophisticated English accent.
If I had my druthers, the film would spend less time on breeding than it does, but like the other segments, this too is done with humor and charm. The illustrations of Ackerley fighting off the attention of the male dogs of every shape and size that Tulip attracts when she's in heat are priceless.
In addition to Plummer, two other celebrity voices are also featured: Isabella Rossellini is the voice of a kindly vet who's the first to be able to successfully examine Tulip, declaring that the dog is perfectly well-behaved and Ackerley is the problem. And the late Lynn Redgrave is a riot as Ackerley's abrasive sister Nancy who moves into his apartment to help care for Tulip and tries to win the dog's allegiance by bribing her with treats.
I loved this movie from beginning to end, save for about 10 seconds when I really hated it (another 40s-era shocker reared its ugly head), but I recovered. Even the draggy bits -- the aforementioned mating scenes -- were rendered enjoyable by Plummer's lively narration and the wonderful hand-drawn animation.
Tulip has little in common with her cartoon canine cousins, such as Scooby-Doo and Astro. Though she's animated, the artists perfectly capture the essence and movements of an actual dog. Nor does she ever speak, prefacing each word with the letter "R" or otherwise. She and some of the other dogs are occasionally pictured as two-legged, clothes-wearing creatures in Ackerley's imagination, but that's the extent of the anthropomorphism.
It's rare that I want to see a movie more than once - I don't actually own a single film on DVD or VHS - but I will likely buy this one. I even ordered Ackerley's book when I got home, but it's currently stuck in that mysterious limbo known as USPS "standard shipping".
Anyone who's ever experienced the unconditional love that comes with owning a dog is going to love this film. As for the rest of you, well, maybe it will show you what it is you're missing.