Review by Dan Skip Allen
Movies such as The Smurfs, Garfield, Marmaduke, and many others have tried to capitalize on the craze of mixing childhood animated classics with live-action human beings and failed to capture the nostalgia of the animated show. Clifford the Big Red Dog is another film on a long list of failures in this genre.
The film version of Clifford the Big Red Dog is a far cry from the PBS animated show of the same name. John Ridder would be rolling over in his grave if he had to see this live-action animated hybrid. It has none of the charms of the animated show. It is so contrived that its contrivances have contrivances. This film doesn't make any sense at all.
A girl (Darby Camp) lives in Harlem with her mother who has to go to Chicago on business. She enlists the help of her uncle (Jack Whitehall) to babysit her. They go for a walk in the park and run across a menagerie owned by an old man (John Close). He shows them a little red dog he found earlier that day. The girl falls instantly in love with the dog, but she's not able to keep him. By a confluence of events, the dog ends up in her backpack at home. She names him Clifford. She makes a wish that she can keep the dog and when she wakes up in the morning the dog isn't little anymore, he's... well, big.
This film has a bunch of characters in it from a rich businessman (Tony Hale) and his assistant (Jessica Keenan Wynn) to classmates and friends of the girl (Isaac Wang) to helpful neighbors (David Alan Greer, Horatio Sanz, Paul Rodriguez) to a veterinarian (Keenan Thompson). They all play a part in this preposterous film. I guess the director, Walt Becker, thought filling out the cast with a bunch of SNL alumni and comedians would make people laugh and not think about how ridiculous this premise really is.
This story gets more ridiculous as it goes. As if a girl running over New York with a big red dog isn't ridiculous enough, the CGI used on the dog is a little wonky. There are size disparities as well. How the dog looks in various scenes is not good at times. The scale of Clifford, said to be ten feet tall, is a little bit in question. How the filmmakers use the dog's size is a little bit unbelievable. One moment he's too big to sit down, the other he's running around playing with a ball in the park that looks the same size as him but is supposed to be smaller with a man inside of it.
This film isn't for adults! It's for kids! It's just too childish and inconsistent from a story point of view for adults to honestly be into this film. The screening I was in had children laughing out loud at various scenes of Clifford doing damage to the girl's house or running amok in New York City. Honestly, this is just childish entertainment. Throw in some cheap sponsorships like Banfield Animal Hospital, a real California-based animal clinic, and you have everything you need for a big-budget (pun intended) movie about this loveable red dog.
It just wasn't for me. I guess I'm too cynical to enjoy a film about a big red dog. In the end, this film doesn't know what it wants to be. A fine family film or a film with a message about the treatment of animals. The cast is huge and most of them are wasted on crazy banter or one-liners just to get a cheap laugh. The good thing is if you have Paramount+ you can watch it at home. Don't waste your money on this. Watch it at home if you must. At least your kids will probably like it.
Clifford the Big Red Dog hits theaters and Paramount+ on November 10.