Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 9th, 2021
Clifford the Big Red Dog (Walt Becker, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.
I remember thoroughly enjoying the hapless, carefree adventures of Clifford the Big Red Dog and his friends … a childish but endearing experience. When hearing about a live-action rendition of the classic series, I was immediately pleasantly surprised and very hopeful to see a fun, family-friendly film, with slight expectations on cinematic appeal from a light and enjoyable premise. However, director Walt Becker (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip) takes his source content and pushes far too many boundaries, with far too many unnecessary liberties, to make Clifford the Big Red Dog fully enjoyable for either the young or the young at heart.
At the start, Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp, The Christmas Chronicles) is united with a tiny, cute red dog, whom she then names Clifford. Overnight, Clifford grows to enormous size and becomes the famous big red dog. From there, Becker dives into bigger ideas, such as Emily being bullied at private school, her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall, Jungle Cruise) being homeless and wacky, and a devious genetics company called “Lifegro” wishing to capture and dissect Clifford to further develop their solution to end hunger. Emily, Casey, and a gang of Emily’s fun but obscure neighbors must fight to keep Clifford safe from Lifegro’s evil schemes.
It is all of these big, adult themes that dampen Clifford the Big Red Dog’s otherwise generic but bouncy tone, adding a lot of serious plot points that are by no means appreciable by a younger audience. Early on, Clifford is playful and has goofy comedic timing, with some very heartfelt ideas and feelings. Had it stayed on this path and continued to be easygoing fun, it would have been a solid, if not necessarily special, film for all ages, one held up by the original franchise the film was meant to reflect. Alas, all of the strange choices in plot, the abrupt use of adult humor, and the hopeless attempt to please too many audiences cause Clifford the Big Red Dog to be all jumbled, likely to have children asking many confused questions, such as why Clifford is being chased by the police at the film’s conclusion.
Not only are its themes adult-like in nature, but also highly one-dimensional in their treatment of corrupt science divisions and corrupt police officers. In addition, while always an important concept, the notion of loving one another is a very overused trope, particularly as the ultimate message. One can hope that the film’s youngest viewers will enjoy seeing their favorite big red dog in live action, for the parents will hardly remember Clifford the Big Red Dog as anything related to the source material we all know and love.