A contemporary of W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, writer J.R. Ackerley lived the last 25 years of his life in a small Putney flat overlooking the Thames where he produced his most important works, among them My Dog Tulip and We Think the World of You, the former a memoir based on his relationship with a German shepherd named Queenie. The book, a favorite of a more famous gay wit, Truman Capote, now sees its pithy but humane observations of the world married to 58,320 drawings by directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger and voiced by Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini, and Lynn Redgrave (to whom the film is dedicated).
The film’s animation, an emulation of The New Yorker cartoon style, may be undistinguished, but the filmmakers’ use of color—or lack thereof—and movement is rife with surprise. Though there’s a strange disconnect between the animation and vocal performances, which have a book-on-tape quality to them, that disassociation cannily reflects the British person’s quintessentially aloof drollness—nowhere more apparent than in an out-of-nowhere musical number during which Plummer dryly intones, “You smell my ass, I smell yours.” Ackerley’s musings further attain profound insight throughout a series of pencil-drawn fantasy digressions that anthropomorphize Tulip and her relationship to the dogs that wish to mount her. (In one of the more amusing asides, Tulip is seen as a celebrity strutting out of a hotel in cock-teasing heat, dogged by a horde of paparazzi and their flashing bulbs.)
Given the startling focus on the Alsatian bitch’s lust and Ackerley’s commitment to getting her laid, it’s strange how the filmmakers completely shy away from acknowledging the author’s homosexuality. Not even a wink to it, and yet there’s still something unmistakably, poignantly queer about Ackerley’s relationship to his dog: how she reserves for him the attention she refuses to lavish on the men of her own species, how she takes a dump on his floor for the first and only time in her life after freakishly sensing he’s going to kill her pups, and how her relationship to him affects the way he looks at the world and the people who live in it. In life and in death, Tulip’s relationship to her master, whose sincerity of feeling belies his stiff upper lip, attests to the joys of longtime companionship, conventional or not.