My Dog Tulip

“Man's best friend”: the sad truth of this tired cliché, according to Wendy and Lucy, Umberto D, and even The Wizard of Oz, is that if a dog is your best friend, life is probably pathetic or worse. Animation auteur Paul Fierlinger engages this mangy trope in his adaptation of the memoir by British man of letters J. R. Ackerly to show that it does indeed have a few new tricks left in it. A terminal bachelor over fifty (and openly gay in post–World War II England), the introspective Ackerly (drolly voiced by Christopher Plummer) has given up hope of finding the perfect companion. This changes when the titular Alsatian bitch comes into his life. Rather than being a cinematic marker of loneliness-and incidentally offering the lead someone to recite lines to-Tulip is at the center of this story, as Ackerly recounts vignettes from their time together. Rather than evoking the broad family-oriented laughs of the similarly canine-centered tell-all Marley & Me, Fierlinger's treatment is adult in tone, exchanging silly yuks for explicit yucks in scenes involving the owner's public embarrassment at his dog's gastrointestinal issues and, later, attempts to get the girl properly “married” to a male German Shepherd. Ackerly describes these moments-grimacingly familiar to anyone who has owned pets-in prosaic terms, but Fierlinger's animation maintains a whimsical distance, at times diverging into moments of surrealism. In the animator's characteristically expressive “sketchy” style, characters pulse with life while showing a singular hand at work.

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