CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG

★★★

A GIANT PUPPY-EYED FAMILY ADVENTURE

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Joel Kalkopf
12th December 2021

"People who are unique are the ones who change the world." This is a lesson that embodies what Walt Becker's ('Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip') adaption of 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' is all about. Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp, 'The Christmas Chronicles') lives with her single mum Maggie (Sienna Guillory, 'Resident Evil: Retribution'), but when it comes to her social standing at her new school, well, let's just say she's struggling in that department. She has a heart of gold and a smile worth millions, but her living situation angers her more affluent pupils, and she is bullied relentlessly.

When Maggie has to leave for a few days, she leaves Elizabeth in the incapable hands of her irresponsible and inconsiderate brother, Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall, 'Jungle Cruise'). Casey wants to prove to his sister that he has what it takes to care for Elizabeth, but even his best intentions will be challenged when he and Elizabeth venture into a carnival where they meet Mr Birdwell, played here by John Cleese ('A Fish Called Wanda') and named after the original author (for those playing at home).

SWITCH: 'CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG' TRAILER 2

After Casey refuses to adopt a little red puppy, they find in Mr Birdwell's magical tent filled with wondrous animals, and fate has other ideas, with this puppy becomes a stowaway by hiding in Elizabeth's backpack. Finding the animal in her bag, and filled with tears from yet more school bullying, Elizabeth promises to unconditionally love the newly-named Clifford, which results in them all waking up and finding this little red puppy has become the titular big, red dog.

Maggie is desperate for Elizabeth to see in herself the unique and special person that she is, despite her insistence of being an outsider, but Clifford might be about to prove to Elizabeth how treasured every individual can be.

'Clifford the Big Red Dog' does an excellent job of harnessing the lessons that the original book series and almost every preceding Disney movie tries to instil - your differences are what make you special, to the point that they will raise you up to overcome any obstacle. It's irrelevant how often the same lessons are put on screen, because ultimately, it's a beautiful sentiment that kids of all ages need to be reminded of.

The antagonist here is Tony Hale's ('Toy Story 4') Tieran, whose company is trying to genetically modify animals so they can feed the world. It's a peculiar approach to a movie "villain", but Hale knows exactly what kind of film he's in. His approach is over-the-top and sinister, reminding me of those cartoon villains you might find on Sunday morning TV.

I expected 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' to be a relatively harmless, if not sub-par, family adventure flick. What I got was a genuinely sweet and heartwarming adaption of a much-loved classic book series.

Becker's film is adorable when it needs to be. The animated Clifford bears an incredible likeness to a real puppy - bar the red colour, of course - and the effects team do a fairly reasonable job of giving him a personality. He runs around the streets of Manhattan and messes with Zorbing at Central Park, which are pleasant reminders that Clifford belies his size and still sees himself as a young pup.

Camp is really great as Elizabeth and manages to hold everything together throughout the film. She goes toe to toe with great celebrity names, including David Alan Grier, Kenan Thompson and Rosie Perez, not to mention Cleese and Whitehall. In fact, Whitehall ends up being the big disappointment of the film. For some unbeknownst reason, he has an American accent. It's terrible, sure, but what's more bewildering is that his sister in the film is British! Why didn't they just keep his accent, instead of crowbarring an odd line about him moving to America younger than Maggie did? It adds nothing to the script, and upsettingly, prevents Whitehall from actually having some fun on screen. He seems to be distracted and put off but his own attempt at an accent, to the point where his character feels refrained when he should be anything but.

I expected 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' to be a relatively harmless, if not sub-par, family adventure flick. What I got was a genuinely sweet and heartwarming adaption of a much-loved classic book series. This is no 'Paddington' that will stand the test of time, and I would argue that there is little for older audiences to enjoy, but this film will undoubtedly be a hit for a younger crowd at the movies. It probably helped that I went in with very low expectations, but that should take nothing away from the magic this film can offer - if you let it.

Like a puppy who so lovingly stares up at you, even after doing something wrong, you can't help but fall for the charm and endearment they demand of you. In the same way, no matter how many flaws you might find throughout, you will feel obliged to look back on this film and say - "awwww".

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