Clifford The Big Red Dog Review

Clifford The Big Red Dog
Lonely kid Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) is left in the care of her hapless Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) while her mum is away on business, and soon becomes the recipient of a bright-red puppy from the magical Mr Bridwell (John Cleese). When she wakes up the next day, the pup’s grown to an enormous size. 

by Ben Travis |
Updated on
Release Date:

10 Dec 2021

Original Title:

Clifford The Big Red Dog

If you’re looking for a heartfelt adventure story about a lonely girl and the gigantic creature she befriends, set against a satirical backdrop exploring environmentalism and the genetically modified food industry, you now have two options. Older audiences can stick with Okja from genre-exploding Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho — but now youngsters can get in on the action too with, er, Clifford The Big Red Dog.

Against the odds, Walt Becker’s live-action tale — adapting the 1960s children’s books by Norman Bridwell, which became a popular pre-school animated show in the early ’00s — hews surprisingly close to that ‘Okja, but, you know, for kids!’ set-up. Here, the lonely girl is Emily Elizabeth (Big Little Lies’ Darby Camp), a recent arrival in NYC who’s bullied at school by rich kids and is desperate for companionship. Instead of a ‘super pig’, she bonds with a ruby-red puppy who — after a stray wish for the pair of them to become “big and strong” together — swiftly blows up into a cutesy canine kaiju. And instead of the Mirando Corporation, the pair find themselves on the run from Lyfegro — a shady biotech organisation attempting to create giant animals, led by the slimy Tieran (Tony Hale on fun, villainous form).

Clifford The Big Red Dog

It’s a strange concoction, but there’s something pleasingly old-school about Clifford’s approach — if it doesn’t have Paddington levels of craft or charm (be honest, what else does?), there’s real warmth and intention beyond a mere cash-grab here. Tonally, it feels like a tribute to sweet ’90s dog-antic comedies like Beethoven and the live-action 101 Dalmatians, just with a colossal canine at its core. That means you get all the usual dog-movie antics, this time played out on a comically large scale: Clifford wrecks the apartment! Clifford sniffs a plumber’s butt-crack! Clifford chases Zorbs in the park! And while the CGI isn’t always where it needs to be — mini-Clifford feels floaty and weightless, while mega-Clifford seems to change size from scene to scene — he’s an undeniably cute creation, sure to be a hit with the intended audience.

This is a solidly constructed, energetic family movie — at once formulaic and pleasantly weird.

Around the title character, the film moves swiftly enough to hang together. Emily Elizabeth and fellow nerdy kid Owen (Izaac Wang) make for a sweet duo, Jack Whitehall gives good gurning despite an unconvincing American accent (a confusing choice, given Casey’s sister speaks with an English accent), and the screenplay boasts a solid set of gags. “It’s New York, no-one will notice,” says Casey as they prepare to take the house-sized dog for his first walk — quickly proven to be correct. It presents a diverse and unified vision of the Big Apple too, where community and togetherness is something to be celebrated.

For all that Clifford is prone to on-the-nose cheesiness (“That’s the dog all over Instagram!” gasps a school kid as the bullies are won over) and never answers key questions about how exactly the big red dog squeezes in and out of buildings, this is a solidly constructed, energetic family movie — at once formulaic and pleasantly weird. Where else will you see a deli fight sequence, a rage-infected sheep, and a magical John Cleese in a turquoise waistcoat? Maybe there is a bit of the genre-busting Bong in there, after all.

A sort of kiddie creature-feature with a big red heart, Clifford offers solid family fare with moments of throwback charm. Not quite a 12/10 on the WeRateDogs scale, but still a good boy.
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