Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Dog Tulip

(My Dog Tulip/ New Yorker Films, 2009)
       The idleness of animation has only gained ground. Computer animation reigns, even when confronted with supposedly traditional animation. Tim Burton’s stop-motion films, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox all made liberal use of computer graphics in order to make the jerkiness of stop-motion look slick. In the meantime, the films that don’t bother with physical materials and go straight for the digital jugular are outpacing everything else. The Pixar movies rake in millions of dollars each year, and always seem to gain attendant critical praise, as if kiddie guns were being held to the heads of those damned uptight critics. It is hand-drawn animation we can almost forget about. Aside from Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Bellville, and his recent The Illusionist, nary a hand-drawn animated feature can be named from the past decade. America, at least, has completely discredited such a practice.
            So now along comes My Dog Tulip, a goofy, potty-mouthed, introspective, whimsical film featuring an old British man jerking across the screen, in etchy color or mere pencil lines, and his Alsatian Bitch, Tulip, who barks, pants, and defecates likewise. In short, the film is every sentiment we have come to inspect from a Pixar film, minus politeness and pop. Because those two elements are nowhere to be found, the film can indulge in traditional animation with fewer constraints than any computer-generated blockbuster can indulge in its form. Because it indulges in all stages of animation, the film is an experience for all ages. It is the least pretentious film this year.
(My Dog Tulip/New Yorker Films, 2009)

            The story hardly needs describing, due to its simplicity and mootness, but here it goes: J.R Ackerley was an English journalist and essayist who worked for the BBC from the late 20’s until his death, in 1967. He ran in intellectual circles and was openly gay, but you will not find these facts in the film. They might explain, though, why he was an unmarried and reticent man in old age, yet filled to the brim with mental curiosity. He has searched, as he puts it, for the “ideal friend” his entire life, but can only find too many flaws in people. He is the ideal candidate for a dog owner, and so he finally acquires one from a lowly acquaintance and names her Tulip. Despite her hyperactivity, her anxiety, and his difficulty in training her, Tulip proves to be a joy, bringing enough bestial habits for Ackerley’s mind to bounce off of for the next fifteen years. Along the way, he learns how to properly scold his dog, how to introduce her to other people, and eventually, how to find her a mate. These situations bring out a host of characters, voiced by actors including the late Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini, and Brian Murray. Christopher Plummer provides the voice of Ackerley himself, his voice believably belonging to a man who gave up on humanity, finding each person in his life ridiculous in their manners. Tulip, on the other hand, is ridiculous because she wants to be, because it simply is her spirit. Ackerley, like any dog lover, prefers to live by the maxim that appears at the start of the film; “Unable to love each other, the English naturally turn to dogs.”
            The reason directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger bothered with this idea at all is because it is based on Ackerley’s memoir of the same name, a book beloved by dog aficionados. But aside from the people truly love dogs, the Fierlinger’s have made their film for people who truly love sloppiness. People who find imperfection a riot. Who find people a group worth looking at cynically, before laughing. Ackerley, as a man, is never someone to just nod along with. His ignorance of puppies and his shortsighted planning are only additional failures of human nature. But with their half-finished drawings, imprecise frames scribbles and doodles, the Fierlinger’s mean to guide us to the humor in our inherent incapacities. Their film stands athwart the march of modern animation towards some sort of master race of digital frames, an endless ironic loop of corrections.
But My Dog Tulip isn’t yelling “stop.” It will likely slink away, not making much money. All the lines that needed to be drawn were drawn, and that’s all real animators care about.
(My Dog Tulip/New Yorker Films, 2009)