It may be only coincidence that the animated feature “My Dog Tulip” is distributed by New Yorker Films, but Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s film looks like cartoons torn from the pages of The New Yorker: erudite and engaging, but hardly realistic-looking, and likely not to be understood by the average person.
The brisk film plays Thursday through Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Although animated, “Tulip” was made for an adult crowd, rather than children. It’s not that its subject matter is objectionable — while unrated, this could pass for PG — but Christopher Plummer’s start-to-finish, scholarly narration may lull them into boredom. Then again, kids might recognize Mr. Fierlinger’s style from his work on “Seasme Street.” The scenes are so appealing drawn and colored that my youngest two sat through the entirety of “Tulip” without complaint, if also without full attention, and were enlivened by the occasional doggie defecation scene.
Did I say “occasional”? I meant “recurring.” The act of bowel-voiding serves as a subplot, and that’s no exaggeration.
Tulip is a spry German Shepherd — or “Alsatian bitch,” as she’s called — who is 18 months old when she’s adopted by J.R. Ackerley, on whose 1956 memoir of the same name the film is based. Already up there in years when he meets Tulip, Ackerley (voiced by Plummer, “The Last Station”) lives a lonely existence in his apartment, so the companionship is appreciated, even if he still dreams of finding someone with whom to share whatever remains.
In real life, Ackerley was openly gay, at which the film hints at and dances around, thinking its intended audience intelligent enough to add 1 and 1 in order to find 2.
The act of bowelvoiding serves as a subplot.
The picture captures the author thinking back on his roughly 15-year relationship with Tulip and her peculiarities. For instance, he expresses worry over her impacted anal glands and notes her two distinct methods of urination, in one of which Tulip’s face appears “businesslike, as if she were signing a check.” These scenes are not depicted for cheap laughs, but for matter of fact. As Ackerley notes, “It’s the way of the world.”
His attempts to “marry” Tulip comprise much of the second half, with the bitch failing to correctly fit together with her would-be baby daddies. Tulip seems uninterested in mating until she gets home, whereupon she proceeds to hump her master’s leg.
Perfect in its imperfections, “My Dog Tulip” is a mildly charming mess, with all those descriptors on purpose. The story it tells is culled practically verbatim from Ackerley’s own voice, and his way with words was meant strictly for the printed page.
The feature’s quiet style never calls attention to itself, presenting “Tulip” as a one-on-one conversation — albeit in which you never get a say, other than pleasant smiles and polite nods of the head — had over a cup of tea, rather than a mass-audience experience shared amid buckets of Pibb Xtra.