Smile Politely

My Dog Tulip is about all that is natural

My Dog Tulip is a rare find these days in the animated film world ― a completely hand-drawn 2D film that has no MPAA rating (apparently it costs $10,000 for one of those). Filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger used Welcome Tablet and a software program called TV Paint to create the “shaky” animations seen on screen.

The images are hand-drawn onto a computer screen in layers. Paul Fierlinger did the initial drawing and Sandra F. painted over them ― a process that Sandra F. says imitates cell animation. According to them, the film runs at 24 frames per second or 12 drawings per second. Paul F. says that this is misleading of course because of the multiple layers, and that what you see is more like 24 drawings per second.

But enough of the technical stuff. Essentially, the film strays away from the technical and hinges on what is natural. For dogs, this is “eating, dumping and humping,” as Paul F. said after the film. And that’s pretty much what you get.

“What always attracted me (to the film) was the beautiful King’s English about dog shit,” Paul F. said. The film runs on Christopher Plummer’s (voice of J.R. Ackerley) sole narration and you’ll get a good feel for what that’s like.

The film is said to be a love story between man and dog. And it really is. Anyone who owns a dog knows that there’s a certain kind of love needed to deal with the things that dogs sometimes consume and often expel at inappropriate times or in less-than-ideal locations. This story highlights this from beginning to end.

Tulip is often uncontrollable and his owner, Ackerley, is faced with the question any dog owner hates to hear: “Have you no control over your dog?” The truth is ― and many dog owners could attest ― that it’s often the other way around; the dog controls the owner. “They teach us more than we train them,” Paul F. said after the film.

Ms. Canvenini (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) pinpoints it when she says to Ackerley, “Tulip’s a good girl . . . you are the trouble.” She is right to a degree of course. Ackerley is a bit of a cranky and crass man who sings lyrics to a dog song, “you smell my ass and I’ll smell yours,” in the opening of the film.  A dog can only be as good as its owner.

My favorite scenes of the film were probably the roughest animations. This is mostly when the Fierlinger’s brought life to the story on a legal pad: scenes in which suitors for the menstruating Tulip are portrayed with raucous, horny sailors or paparazzi trying to get close to everyone’s favorite star. “They’re prostitutes and they’re very good at it,” Paul F. said.

The story dedicates a good deal of time to Tulip’s hormonal changes and Ackerley’s attempts to find her a suitable mate, at least for the physical stuff. For the most part he fails, as he does in his own life that would ultimately be spent alone, without a companion, if not for Tulip’s presence. 

If you’re not a dog lover then I suppose you would hate this film. I’m guessing you wouldn’t identify with the obsession of Ackerley. But Roger Ebert happens to be a fan of dogs. As his wife Chaz said before the film, Roger once said he could live in a small room with a rice cooker, his books, and his dog. It wasn’t until later that he wisely corrected himself and added Chaz to that list. She was a bit of an afterthought it seems, but dog owners are just like that sometimes.

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