My Dog Tulip is a vivid account—taken from the pages of J.R. Ackerley’s memoir—of the 15 years spent with his “ideal friend”, Tulip, an Alsatian (commonly known as a German Shepherd) he rescued from an abusive and neglectful home when she was 18 months old. Dog owners will be moved, possibly to tears, by this story of love and companionship between a man in his autumn years and his loving, energetic, and often unruly, dog.
After a series of bad vets, Ackerley (Christopher Plummer) happens upon Ms. Canvenini (Isabella Rossellini), a soft-spoken and friendly vet who not only understands Tulip but informs Ackerley that he’s inadvertently the cause of Tulip’s difficult behavior. About the time things seem to be going good, Ackerley’s sister, Nancy, shows up needing a place to stay. After the passing of a year, Ackerley and Tulip are both sick of Nancy. Ackerley is brash in his depiction of his controlling and defiant sister. Initially it’s difficult to believe that Ackerley’s abrasive grumblings about his sister are deserved, but once Nancy attempts to win Tulip’s affection away from Ackerley, the dog owner in me cheers him on, while hurling a few off-color insults of my own. This, and other failed attempts at friendship with other people, as well as dogs, eventually leaves Ackerley and Tulip to face the fact that they are indeed each other’s ideal friend.
What is great and enduring about Ackerley is his willingness to understand Tulip while working to better understand himself. As a dog owner, and more specifically, an owner of two often neurotic dogs, I sympathize with Ackerley when he reveals that Tulip is seldom invited to friends houses once, and never twice. No one understands a dog like its owner and, likewise, no one understands a person like their dog.
Ackerley holds nothing back, he goes into great detail about situations all dog owners encounter, but seldom discuss, such as bowel movements and attempts at mating. This, combined with Ackerley’s grumbling yet loving old man persona, separates this dog story from all the rest. Christopher Plummer’s voice lends itself to the stern yet loving tone of Ackerley, who keeps us at arm’s-length while opening the door to his sometimes conflicted emotions. It’s as if he’s saying, “Here’s my heart, but don’t get to close, observe from a safe distance.”
Directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who reside in Pennsylvania with their own dog, spent over two years bringing My Dog Tulip to life. The film looks and feels like traditional animation, but My Dog Tulip is entirely hand drawn on a computer. No paper is used in the animating process. While most scenes are in color, some are mere sketches on a blank background or lined yellow legal pad. John Avarese’s score fits perfectly within the confines of Ackerley’s world and while Avarese’s sound effects bring every moment to life, there are some less-than-pleasant moments that make one wish the sounds were dulled.
There has never been a more accurate or loving tale about a dog and her master. Whether consciously or subconsciously, everyone is searching for what Ackerley calls, “the ideal friend”, but time and again I have found in my own life, and in the lives of others, that dogs truly are man’s best friend.
DVD Bonus Features
The DVD features a short, but informative, “making of” documentary that provides insight into the creation of the film as well as exploring the filmmakers themselves. Also included is a still gallery, theatrical trailer, and a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Ackerley biographer, Peter Parker.
My Dog Tulip is out on DVD and blu-ray 11th July 2011.
Director: Peter Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger
Writer: J.R. Ackerley (book), Peter Fierlinger (screenplay), Sandra Fierlinger (screenplay)
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini
Runtime: 83 minutes