My Dog Tulip

Less Flowery Than the Title Implies


Featuring Voices of: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave

Written by Robert Patrick

J.R. Ackerley was an English writer who, in 1956, wrote a book about his German Shepherd, Tulip. A veteran of the great war, the old gentleman confided in no one, living out his years in pensive solitude, until, one particular day, he brought a scruffy, misbehaving canine home. The cartoon – made for adults, the poster says, with its prudish font scuttled at the bottom – is a sort of endearing animated feature, for the first half anyway, as it eventually becomes a “How To” manual about finding a mate for your pet. The first thirty or so minutes are washed with muted pastels, overcast greys, and crosshatched lines. The dialogue is introspective and warmly-read in a narrative by Christopher Plummer, who voices the bispectled and jaded Ackerley. Because the illustration is atypical of most animated features, it takes awhile for you to become adjusted to the seemingly clumsy and roguish lines. The source material is pretty drab and flat, however, so the buttery colors and creamy landscape fits the story well.

Because our protagonist is old, his coarse voice wavers and trembles, and Plummer’s sincere afflection lifts the sometimes bland text off the page. There is quite a bit of sadness in the flowery book from which the movie was adapted, and the film sprucely shows it by spreckling the feature with great lines from Ackerley’s weathered pages. The movie, unfortunately, hits its peak early and goes downhill quite fast. The palpable friendship between man and animal, one that is easily relatable, gets turned into Ackerley’s problematic affair with trying to find a canine mate for his dog. Much of the movie revolves around defecation, descriptions of animals failing to mount one another, and other brutish and aesthetically unpleasing details of nature. Though interesting and fine in passing, the film downs much more than the required dosage and turns into a repetitive melee of urine and lust.

The feature is pretty trim, running under, if I remember properly, an hour and thirty minutes. And though it is pretty short, the film seems to be twice the length it alleges to be. The warbly lines start to become grating, after a short period of time, and the frenzied chaos caused by the salivating Tulip also becomes, to a certain degree, taxing – although amicably so. The film isn’t a failure, and it’s certainly interesting, but it is, under no circumstance, ever entertaining. It’s easy, however, to become enamoured by the primordial awe that Ackerley shows, when watching his dog do the simplest of things, on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t your typical dog-puts-owner-in-precarious-situations-while-remaining-cute film, so dont expect “Beethoven” or even “My Dog Marley”. This is a more subdued, coy, reserved anecdote from an aging Englishman.

The feeling I received, upon the closing titles, was simply that of mortality. Not a fear, so to speak, but an admiration for aging with a pen in hand, quill or otherwise. I suppose that it spoke to me, in some way, through a brisk and fleeting credit roll, is something in its own right. But is it the first thing you should watch in theaters? No, not even the third thing. Cheers to posthumous writers and their late, daffy animal companions everywhere, though.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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