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Review: 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' is a big hit with kids

Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2022 at 11:52 AM Central

by John Couture

We often pine for the "simpler times" of youth, but when we revisit them with the wisened eyes of maturity, we usually see right through the contrivances for what they are.

With Clifford the Big Red Dog, Paramount has created an entertaining piece of nostalgia that will resonate with audiences both young and old. Sure, there are certain elephants in the room that are noticeable as, say, a big red dog, but for the most part Clifford hits its mark with aplomb.

When middle-schooler Emily Elizabeth meets a magical animal rescuer who gifts her a little, red puppy, she never anticipated waking up to find a giant ten-foot hound in her small New York City apartment. While her single mom is away for business, Emily and her fun but impulsive uncle Casey set out on an adventure that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat as our heroes take a bite out of the Big Apple. Based on the beloved Scholastic book character, Clifford will teach the world how to love big!

Based on the popular children's books from Scholastic, Clifford already has a pretty sizeable built-in audience as anyone born in the 1980s or parents of said kids can pick out Clifford in a lineup. Of course, how do you not pick out a massive red dog from any sort of lineup?

The main hurdle to overcome, like any character looking to jump from one medium to another, is how would audiences receive an obvious CG character in a live-action world? Everyone's a critic, but Paramount learned a lesson or two from the pushback it received from the first look at Sonic the Hedgehog and it's apparent that they have learned from their mistakes.

Much like Sonic, the first trailer for Clifford the Big Red Dog was met with skepticism and mild backlash at Clifford's appearance. I think the main reason for this has to do with the timing of when trailers are released and the time-consuming aspect of any such CG work.

To a lesser extent, we see this in other movies where the early trailers, unfortunately, highlight unfinished or rough CG in an effort to get the trailer out before it's ready. It's a business, I get that, but sometimes you bite off more than you can handle if a trailer's CG is so bad that it turns off your target demo.

While I do think there are some valid nitpicks to be made about the CG quality, it's a giant red dog. We all know that Clifford is fake, but in the final film, it's not that difficult to hold onto that suspension of disbelief and allow the movie to sweep you up in its journey.

As you can see in the deleted scene above where they overlayed a very rough CG Clifford on top of the two-person model that they used on set to help the actors with their sightlines and positioning, the CG animators were miracle workers and should be applauded as such. It takes a lot of work to go from two dudes in a wire frame with some cloth over them to the finished product and I certainly won't be one to criticize their work.

Of course it also helps that I have two young children who grew up reading Clifford books and truly are the target demo of the film. The looks on their faces and the joy they shared as we watched the movie say much more than any words of praise I could heap upon it.

Kids just have an innate ability to see beyond the imperfections and enjoy something for what it is. This childish sense of magic is not only the binding element of the entire film, but it's a reminder to us adults that maybe we take ourselves too seriously, and perhaps it wouldn't hurt to take time to slow down and enjoy things for what they are.

But sadly, we live in a time where we've become increasingly less tolerant of those that are different from us. Whether it's politics or religion or simply the way someone looks, it seems that society has reached a point where it's all of a sudden acceptable to be the bully.

How did we get to this point?

The answer to that question is best left for another day and would take much longer than this simple review to answer. What I will say is that Clifford the Big Red Dog does an impeccable job of driving home the point that we should celebrate our differences and be comfortable in our own skin.

This is a common refrain in children's entertainment these days as the aforementioned father of two young kids, I couldn't agree with it more. I've seen the cruelty that exists in our kids' lives firsthand and, man, is it ugly.

I wish I had the power of Mr. Bridwell (played expertly by John Cleese to magically tackle this issue, whether it's through the introduction of a magical pet or some other fashion. But sadly, real life doesn't work like that.

No, magic is mostly reserved for the big screen, but that doesn't mean that we are powerless. Films like Clifford the Big Red Dog hammer home the concept of acceptance and empowerment in an entertaining way that is sure to hit home with its audience.

Granted the film plays much better to the younger set, but there are takeaways for all of us. Overall, it's an entertaining 80 minutes that will make your children laugh and question what it truly means to be different and why that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Clifford the Big Red Dog is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.