Film & TV

Film Review: Clifford the Big Red Dog

Live action and CGI combine to bring to life the beloved children’s book about a giant dog.

He’s big, he’s red, and he’s a lot of fun!

For the first time, I was more excited to see a kids’ film than the kids (and Ms 5, Mr 9 & Ms12 were pretty bouncy) as I grew up loving the Clifford the Big Red Dog books.  If you have kids and you haven’t seen the books, head on down to your local library to borrow them or your local bookshop to buy them – they are just great fun.

The film features real live characters with a CGI Clifford, and he looks just like a Labrador and all of the characters interact with him brilliantly.

Clifford is one of a litter of puppies born in an abandoned warehouse, the only bright red Labrador in the litter.  He is playing under the blankets when the animal control team come and collect his mother and his siblings, taking them to the pound to find them homes.  Clifford, a tiny puppy and runt of the litter, is left behind, and heads out on his own into the world.  (For the record, I was already tearing up at this stage.)

Meanwhile, Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp, who was also in two seasons of Big Little Lies) trudges home to Harlem from her prestigious New York school having had another horrendous day.  She is on a scholarship and a group of girls at the school bully her, calling her names and pointing out her mother’s lack of wealth in public.  Emily hates being different and just wants a friend.  As she arrives home, her mother, with a beautiful English accent as she was brought up in the UK and moved to New York as a child around Emily’s age, informs her that she has to travel to Chicago for work and her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) will be minding her for a few days.  Emily is not too sure about this, as Casey is the black sheep in the family, bouncing between jobs and houses, with never a cent to his name but always a smile on his face.

Day one of Casey in charge shows Casey picking up Emily after school and seeing an eccentric tent in the park, full of rescued animals.  They explore it – Emily with wonder, Casey with uncertainty as he knows they aren’t allowed pets in their apartment and is trying hard to prove himself responsible – and meet Mr Bridwell (John Cleese).  (As an aside, I love the naming of Mr Bridwell, after the original author of the books.)  Mr Bridwell, who is a little bit magical, shows them around and that’s when Emily spots the ever-so-tiny Clifford, who was rescued by Mr Bridwell.  Instantly, Emily falls in love and Casey caves, saying that she can have him just for the night.  When Emily asks how big he will grow, Mr Bridwell says, “It depends, doesn’t it?  On how much you love him.”

The following morning, Emily wakes up to see that Clifford is the size of an elephant!  We all laughed ourselves silly at watching an elephant-sized puppy bouncing around a small apartment, and later then trying to hide him from the superintendent who can evict them for having a dog.

The turn comes when Zac Tieran (Tony Hale, who Mr 9 knew straight away as from being in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip), the billionaire owner of Lifegro who is trying to grow bigger animals and food, sees Clifford and decides that he must belong to them so they can research him and produce more big animals.

Emily, Casey and Clifford end up on the run, and Emily discovers she’s not as friendless as she thought, with Owen from her school helping them and much of the community in Harlem.  There is a hilarious chase and fight scene through shops which was Mr 9 and Ms 12’s favourite bit – Casey picks up the nearest thing to take on Lifegro’s security, which happens to be a spatula.

In the end, Emily realises it is the things that make us different that help us to make a difference, and this is what unites the community.  This was Ms 5’s favourite part, when Emily stands up for herself.

Even MS 12 really enjoyed it, saying she was expecting it to be of a little kids’ film but it was a lot of fun.

And me?  I was excited to see it, a bit trepidatious considering it was a beloved part of my childhood, but I loved it, too.  It was just fun, a great afternoon out with the kids watching an elephant-sized puppy bounce around.  Be warned, there are some tear-jerker scenes, as many kids’ films these days seem to have, so pack some tissues as well as the popcorn.

There was much discussion around whether we give Clifford the Big Red Dog a 9 or a 10, so we went with a 9.5 in the end – after laughing, rehashing all of our favourite scenes and what we might do with a dog that size.  You know it’s a good one when you can all sit around talking and laughing afterwards!

Clifford the Big Red Dog is released on December 30th.

Great family fun 4.5 stars

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