On a sunny day, a man exercising in the park in a human bubble ball is attacked by a giant creature. As he screams in terror, and the bubble deflates, on lookers pull out their cell phones to record the altercation. While the man is eventually released, his rapidly deflating bubble damaged beyond repair, one would expect that such an encounter would have evoked mass panic. However, in the world of Clifford the Big Red Dog it is treated as just another day in the city.
It is moments like these that remind viewers that Walt Becker’s adaptation of Norman Bridwell’s popular Scholastic book series of the same name may be set in a landscape that resembles our own but exists on another plane. Wearing its heart on its sleeve, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a film where love and magic are intertwined in ways that only children can truly understand.
This is something Emily (Darby Camp) learns firsthand when an unexpected visit to Bridwell’s (John Cleese) pop-up animal rescue tent changes her life forever. The new girl at an elite private school, Emily has found it difficult to fit in. Called “Food Stamp” by the popular girl at school, who seemingly has made it her personal mission to embarrass her every chance she gets, Emily lives a rather lonely life. While she is friendly with those in the community, she has no friends to call her own. With her mother, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), frequently travelling for business, Emily is often left in the care of her irresponsible uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), who struggles to get his own life in order.
Unbeknownst to Emily and Casey, Mr. Bridwell has a special gift of matching special pets with individuals who need them most. While taking a detour into Bridwell’s tent, Emily is introduced a red puppy who has been separated from his family. Though she is immediately smitten with the pup, Casey knows that his sister would not approve of them bringing a dog home. Unfortunately for Casey, one cannot control fate, especially when a little old fashion magic is at work behind the scenes.
Arriving home from school the next day, Emily is shocked to find that the puppy, which she names Clifford, has been hiding in her knapsack. Deciding to keep the dog for the night, and showering it with plenty of love, the eleven-year-old awakes to discover that the once tiny pup has grown tenfold overnight. As if trying to keep a big red dog a secret was not hard enough, Emily, Casey, and Emily’s classmate Owen (Izaac Wang) must also keep Clifford out of the hands of Zac Tieran (Tony Hale). The owner of Lyfegro, a genetics company that is experimenting with growth formulas that will ultimately be used to end world hunger, Tieran believes that Clifford may hold the missing ingredient that will make his business a success.
While Tieran’s ruthless actions may be fueled by his desire to create sustainable foods, Clifford the Big Red Dog has little interest in the topic of food instability. The film is ultimately a tale about the way love and acceptance can bring a community together. In conveying its message that differences should be embraced, Becker’s moves through all the comedic slapstick beats one would expect from a family film.
Although the film does not break any new ground, it does provide solid entertainment for younger viewers. Through its visual effects that bring Clifford to life and its zany set pieces, the film captures the heart and silly joy that made the source material so popular. Clifford the Big Red Dog does not have any large aspirations outside of honoring the warmth that Bridwell’s books evoked. It is film with heart as big as the dog and its centre.
Bonus Features: Part of the Pack, Acting is for the Dogs, The Magic of Bridwell, Tips & Tricks for Taking Care of a 10 Foot Dog, Deleted Scene.