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Photo: ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’
Out of all the countless children’s stories out there that I expected to one day get adapted to the big screen, ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ is definitely near the bottom of the list. As someone who enjoyed the books as a child but hasn’t heard about the series since, this franchise felt like a fever dream when I first heard about the creation of this movie. But now that it’s here, I can say with full confidence that it’s a pretty decent movie. The writing isn’t too weak and the cast looks like they’re having a fun time, and Clifford is as adorable as ever. I mean, seriously, who could ever hate a movie about puppies?
A Brief Synopsis
‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ is based off of the popular children’s book series by Norman Bridwell. In this adventure, the film follows a young girl named Emily
Elizabeth, played by Darby Camp. Living in a rundown apartment with her mother, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), Emily, she longs for a life where she isn’t bullied by her schoolmates and can feel confident in herself. When Maggie goes away on a business trip, she leaves Emily under the care of her irresponsible Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), who lives in a van on the side of the road. One day, when Casey and Emily are walking to school, Emily visits an animal rescue tent and meets the tent’s newest addition: a small red puppy.
Despite leaving without the puppy, Emily soon finds the puppy in her possession and names him Clifford. After making a wish for her and Clifford to be “big and strong”, she wakes up to find Clifford is gigantic. Now, with the help of Casey and her neighbors, Emily has to find a place for Clifford to live peacefully while also running away from the biotech company Lifegro and its conniving leader, Zack Tieran (Tony Hale). It’s a race through the Big Apple, as Clifford teaches everyone what it means to be different.
‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ – A Film Meant for the Family
The first thing you need to know is that this film is clearly a family film. ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ doesn’t reach too hard to try and be anything more than that, and that’s okay. It’s filled with fun characters and light humor that will make kids laugh, along with enough fun moments to keep any child entertained throughout the entire hour and a half runtime. Director Walt Becker knows this (he’s had experience directing films marketed for kids with his previous movie ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’), and he does his best to make ‘Clifford’ a film that kids will enjoy.
Sadly, that doesn’t really translate over well for older audiences. I’m a strong believer in the fact that it’s possible to make a kids movie that anyone can enjoy (Pixar excels at this), and despite ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ being a fun film, I wouldn’t say it qualifies for this. A lot of this is due to a weaker script that doesn’t really connect with the characters as much as it should. The story is very by-the-numbers, which is fine, but it doesn’t really go as far as it could with its premise.
A Solid Cast and Performances
None of this is really to the fault of the cast, who are pretty good in their roles. Darby Camp makes Emily Elizabeth a relatable protagonist for kids to connect with. Her perky charmingness anchors the story well, and she really makes you care about that big red dog of hers. Jack Whitehall also does his best here, almost stealing the thunder away from Camp, as he brings most of the film’s humor, both physical and verbal. Whitehall’s character, Casey, is a deadbeat who lives in a van on the streets of New York, and his character is the exact opposite type of person that you’d want as your babysitter as a kid. But through all that, he cares about Elizabeth, and his performance shows it.
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Besides those two, who make up a lot of the film’s humor and heart, the supporting cast also does a fine job as well. Izaac Wang was a standout for me, playing Emily’s friend and classmate Owen Yu. He often just quips off of Emily and Casey, but his presence definitely adds to ‘Clifford’, and that’s pretty impressive for a child actor. This movie is also filled with cameos or other supporting roles filled with known comedians, more than one might expect for a movie like this. Besides Tony Hale playing the antagonist, there’s also Kenan Thompson and John Cleese playing Clifford’s veterinarian and a magic animal rescuer. There’s also David Allen Grier and Horatio Sanz, both of sketch comedy fame, who play Emily’s neighbors. While some of these comic legends have more to do than others, it helps fill out the cast for more laughs in a fun movie.
Now, there’s just one big question left to ask: How was Clifford? The dog was as loveable as ever. For any dog fans out there, or ‘Marley and Me’ or ‘Airbud’ enthusiasts, this movie can be added to the list of enjoyable dog movies for kids. There was still one glaring issue with everyone’s favorite giant pup, however. Clifford, despite being as cute and loveable as ever, was very clearly made up of CGI. This would be alright, as you can’t really find a 20-foot dog anywhere to put in the film, but the CGI was not polished and it was very clear that Clifford wasn’t real. While I don’t know what the budget of the movie was, it would have definitely been better served to spend some more on making Clifford feel real, especially in 2021 where we have other movies that knock it out of the park.
But overall, despite some issues, I still found ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ to be a good time watching. The dog was cute, the cast looked like they were having fun making this, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a sequel come out soon, depending on how well this film does. It’s not peak Cinema or anything, but as a kids movie, does it really have to be? As long as kids enjoy this, I’d say it’s a success. And while parents may not find it the most intricate and engaging of movies out there, they’ll still find a good time cuddling up with the kid and watching a movie to enjoy.
‘Clifford the Big Red Dog;’ is available now in theaters or on Paramount+.
Cast and Crew:
Cast: Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory
Directed by: Walt Becker | Screenplay by: Jay Scherick, David Ronn and Blaise Hemingway
Cinematography by: Peter Lyons Hollister | Edited by: Sabrina Plisco
Music by: John Debney
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.