J. R. Ackerley's memoir My Dog Tulip is one of the great entertaining books about dog ownership, in part because it doesn't shy away from the meat and refuse that goes along with animals. This animated version of the memoir is charming in the exact same way: Ackerley as a narrator (Christopher Plummer's voice work has a sly misanthropic twinkle) doesn't seem very interested in people, but he is immediately smitten with Tulip, his "Alsatian bitch." He pays close attention to the dog's every bodily function with great aplomb, even cheerily licking marmalade off his own fingers as he talks to us about the care and close personal contact that Tulip's anal glands require. He describes one of his dog's facial expressions during urination as "contentment" and another as businesslike—"as if writing a check."

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Tulip's squiggly, sketchy animation feels intimate and friendly (even though it's all hand-drawn entirely on computers; the credits inform us that no paper was used in the course of the film's creation). A few sequences employ clever storytelling conceits to keep things interesting—a vacation town is drawn in part as a diorama of enormous postcards propped up on rocks amid the beach scenery—but it is, for the most part, almost an hour and a half of a man talking to us about his dog. The dog, we quickly learn, is nothing special—Tulip isn't well behaved or clever—but Ackerley's love for her above everything else in the world, including his sister and friends, makes the film extraordinary.

The vast majority of the film concerns Tulip's insatiable heat and Ackerley's attempts to pimp her out to an attractive, intelligent male Alsatian. (It's a safe bet to say that you've never seen this much attempted dog sex in one film.) If a few of Ackerley's mannerisms have not aged well—you'll wince the few times he smacks Tulip, even if they were seemingly the only way to keep the dog in line—they add to the meaty weight of the story. My Dog Tulip is a biography of a friendship, written in diarrhea and menstrual blood and droplets of urine. Because it recognizes that truth, this decidedly unsentimental story has 10 times the charm of some phony Hollywoodized crap like Marley & Me. recommended