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"CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG"
(2021) (Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall) (PG)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A 12-year-old and her uncle must contend with her new red puppy suddenly being the size of a rhino and the attention that brings their way.
PLOT:

Emily Howard (DARBY CAMP) is a 12-year-old who lives in Harlem with her single mom, Maggie (SIENNA GUILLORY), and is the new kid at her school where she must contend with being bullied by her snobby, rich student, Florence (MIA RONN), but has found a friend in another classmate, Owen (IZAAC WANG).

When Maggie has to go away for a few days for work, she reluctantly asks her unreliable, slacker brother, Casey (JACK WHITEHALL), if he can watch Emily. He agrees, but realizes it's probably a bad idea to allow Emily to go to a nearby pet rescue event. Nevertheless, he gives in to his niece's irresistible cute pleading and thus they enter the menagerie tent run by Mr. Bridwell (JOHN CLEESE) who introduces them to a tiny red puppy. Realizing Maggie wouldn't be happy, Casey tells Emily she can't have the dog, but she's later surprised to find it in her backpack.

The next morning, and likely stemming from Bridwell's comment that the pooch -- now named Clifford -- will grow as big as Emily's love for it, the dog is suddenly as big as a rhino. While needing to keep Clifford hidden from the building superintendent, Packard (DAVID ALAN GRIER), Casey, Emily, and Owen take the dog to the vet where it's seen by many there and elsewhere.

That draws the attention of Lyfegrow CEO Tiernan Zac Tiernan (TONY HALE) who wants to feed the world via genetically engineered plants. But with his company's efforts so far proving fruitless, he realizes the answer might lie within Clifford and thus sets out to get his hands on the pup. From that point on, Emily, Casey, Owen, and others do what they can to protect the enormous dog.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Okay, I'll just come right out and admit it -- I'm a cat person. No, not like Nastassja Kinski in the 1982 erotic horror flick, but rather as someone who grew up with felines and has had them in his life for most of his fifty-seven laps around the big bright thing in the sky. That said, I love all animals -- well, most of them at least -- but cats are my number one favorite. Thus, I'm not fully versed in all things related to other animals, including fictional works featuring them.

All of which means I'm not overly familiar with the canine character accurately known as Clifford the Big Red Dog. With a little research, I've discovered that he's been around for nearly sixty years, both in print form and later in videos as well as a PBS Kids series that aired in the early 2000s.

But if you're truly going to show off the character in all of his literal and figurative colors, not to mention immense size, you need the big screen to do him justice. And thus, after nearly a decade of false starts and other issues, the ruby pup hits theaters (as well as Paramount+) in the familiarly titled "Clifford the Big Red Dog."

Obviously not being up to speed on any of the source material, I can't attest to any degree -- or not -- of this offering being faithful to its origins. I can say, though, that I think younger kids will enjoy the nearly 100-minute flick even if this is their first exposure to the character.

Long removed from being part of the target demographic, I must admit that I found the film appealing, entertaining, and occasionally emotionally moving. Granted, maybe it caught me at just the right moment in just the right mood, for there's plenty of scatological comedy material -- lots of slobber, a giant fart, and some other dog butt related bits -- that's long escaped my funny bone, as well as childish slapstick, and some characters that are certainly cartoonish.

Then again, maybe it's just the mutual love between a human and a pet angle and the classic underdog -- no pun intended -- sort of story that can make offerings like this work. The underdog here isn't the title character -- although he starts that way in the opening scene where he's left behind, all alone as a tiny and very red puppy -- but rather the girl who ends up as his unintended owner.

She's Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp), the new kid at school where, unlike her, the other kids come from rich families, all of which results in the resident middle school mean girl, Florence (Mia Ronn), referring to the 12-year-old as "food stamp." Things don't get any better when her mom (Sienna Guillory) has to go away for a few days for work, resulting in Emily's slacker uncle, Casey (Jack Whitehall), babysitting her.

With him having previously "lost" her twice in her past, Emily doesn't have high expectations, but things change when they visit a rescue pet tent that's somehow immensely larger inside than it appears out, features a literal menagerie of exotic animals, and has a friendly and gregarious owner in Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese having fun in the part that's named after the original creator of Cliffy-boy).

Knowing his sister will kill him if he allows Emily to adopt the dog, Casey says no, but the pooch ends up in the girl's backpack and then -- based on Bridwell's comment that Clifford will get as big as Emily's love for him -- grows overnight into a rhino-sized canine.

That results in the obligatory cartoonish villain -- Tony Hale hamming it up as Tiernan, the CEO of a "let's genetically modify stuff to save the world" company -- wanting to get his paws, uh, hands on the dog to discover and then use the answer behind such surprising growth. Throw in a classmate sidekick (Izaac Wang), and a slew of minor characters, and the stakes are set to find Bridwell to reverse the magic and keep the pup before it's too late.

Despite having zero doubts that things will be okay, the film's sometimes annoying issues, and my status as a cat person, I enjoyed "Clifford the Big Red Dog Enough" to give it a 5.5 out of 10 score.




Reviewed November 10, 2021 / Posted November 10, 2021


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