“My Dog Tulip” is extremely English. It’s the kind of movie that, for reasons unexplained, will cause crusty 65-year-old men and women to laugh uncontrollably, leaving everyone too young to remember the 1950s looking stone-faced and confused. It attempts to be a comedy, and succeeds at provoking the kind of tea-sipping, quirky and unpredictably cute laughter the English have mastered and think everyone else understands.

My Dog Tulip

At the Michigan
New Yorker

“My Dog Tulip” is Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s first attempt at a full-length feature film, though Paul was nominated for an Academy Award for a short film he directed in 1980. This history is not surprising, considering that “Tulip” feels like a short expanded into an 80-minute feature. Were it a book, it could probably be read in one sitting. It’s a minimalistic, animated story about a man and his dog, and, though there are a lot of nuances and humorously odd situations along the way, the film examines one plotline and one train of thought throughout its duration.

That said, it isn’t boring. And it’s not simple. Basically, Tulip functions as a pseudo-daughter for an old Englishman called J.R. Ackerley (the name of original novel’s writer, voiced by Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”) who lives a charming but rather lonely life in London. He adopts Tulip and spends almost 17 years raising, loving and trying to contain the spirited German Shepherd. Ackerley has no children, no wife and no real friends, so the kind of companionship he seeks in taking in Tulip is one he’s not exactly prepared for — nor one he is able to resist — as the dog is easily the most loving thing he’s ever come in contact with.

While there is an immediate and lasting transformation that takes place within Ackerley as he learns to love Tulip, we’re simultaneously shown Tulip’s progression from a rambunctious, young, athletic dog into an adult struggling to raise her own puppies and accepting the limitations of urban life. Tulip takes on very human qualities the more we watch her and listen to Ackerley describe their relationship, but not in the way we’ve seen dogs become like people in the past.

Tulip is not Lassie, nor is she Old Yeller, Shiloh or Marley. Tulip doesn’t finally save someone from dying at the end, nor does she die in some tear-jerking manner as a somber violin plays. Rather, Tulip is a more worldly, multi-dimensional kind of dog protagonist, a free spirit who eventually grows to see the world in a more complete way.

In a way, she’s actually a more human dog than the classic dogs to whom we’ve learned to attach personalities and souls. She mirrors the transformation of an uncontrollably optimistic teenager into a less animated but more contented grown-up better than any didactically heroic or infinitely wise canine we’ve seen before. Tulip is used as an example of how we accept the limits and responsibilities of our lives, and shows her owner the full range of directions a single deep relationship — a perfect friendship, for which Ackerley tells us he’s been searching his whole life — can take us.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.