'Clifford the Big Red Dog' takes a 'Clifford Goes to Washington' approach to Clifford
Clifford, Clifford, Clifford. What is there to say about this big red boy that hasn’t been said ample times in so many eloquent ways? This big goof was a part of all of our childhoods, an integral part if I may. When I learned that Hollywood was making a new Clifford movie, I was, of course, worried. With this glut of remakes, reboots, sequels, and second outings, what if they permanently ruined an essential part of my childhood? When I read “Clifford Gets a Job,” would the experience be tainted by a loathsome (and worst of all, unnecessary) retelling? Of course, there was no need to worry. “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” masterfully directed by Walt Becker (eagle-eyed readers will recognize him as the visionary behind “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”), is a tour-de-force, marrying new New York-tinged elements with that classic Clifford we all know and love.
As any self-respecting Clifford-head would do, I bought a ticket to an early special screening here in Pittsburgh. I brought all the Clifford memorabilia I had to the screening as a show of my ever-loving fandom. I would have brought more, but I had to leave most of my Clifford antiques in my old family home when I moved to college. Once I arrived at the showing, I noticed that I was definitely not the only fan there. There were two men dressed in full-body dog costumes, no doubt meant as simulacra of Clifford that nevertheless permitted them to express their own identities. I immediately became rather jealous and asked for the provenance of these furry suits. These very nice men showed me and then invited me to their upcoming party on the 17th. Of course, I accepted; I’d love to meet new fans of Clifford the Big Red Dog.
While the patrons of the AMC Waterfront 22 establishment were very pleasant, I cannot say the same about the waitstaff. I had, of course, brought my 34-ounce Clifford drink barrel (a 5:1 replica of the very one he uses in “Clifford Grows Up”) and my Clifford-branded popcorn baggy from “Clifford Goes to the Circus” with the expectation that I could use these items as containers in which the popcorn and Hi-C would be poured. The cashier informed me that that was not the case, which embarrassed me so much that I almost didn’t buy the large drink and popcorn.
I know that you Cliffordiacs aren’t just here to hear about my life and love for Clifford — you want the meat! Has Emily Elizabeth been wronged? Is Norman Bridwell rolling in his grave? Luckily, no on both counts. As I said before, this is a heartwarming story that will satisfy fans, both young and especially old. “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is billed as a movie for children, yet many of the jokes would go clear over a youngster’s head and are obviously meant for an audience that is more sophisticated. The themes of factory farming and NIMBYism are also more adult, so there is definitely room on this bone for everyone.
As a former New Yorker, I can say that the Big City elements of this film are very genuine. There are many, many bodega scenes, and, of course, the classic Eastern European milk woman that haunts New York apartment buildings. You can tell that there is a genuine love for that New York spirit. The film is rather Monty Python-esque, starring John Cleese in his best role since “A Fish Called Wanda.” Here, the dog is called Clifford (named in a frankly hilarious scene that calls back to “Clifford’s Best Friend: A Story about Emily Elizabeth”) and John Cleese is Mr. Bridwell, an obvious callback to Norman Ray Bridwell, who you all know.
Other highlights are Darby Camp as Emily Elizabeth and Mia Ronn as Florence, the school bully. Her portrayal of a mean bully is stunningly realistic and may dredge up bad memories among the viewers that may have been “less well-adjusted” at school.
There are many other delightful moments included within this film, but they are best left as surprises. When I came home and immediately rewatched the movie with my Paramount Plus subscription, I noticed many hidden details that only an eagle-eyed viewer could catch on their primary watch, when most would be focused on the compelling narrative, humor, and effects. Incredible movie, 8/10