Reviews | Written by Jack Bottomley 25/11/2021

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG

We have a natural hesitation when it comes to Live-Action takes on childhood favourites. Be they of page or small screen origin. No doubt about it, the years of Yogi Bear and Cat in the Hat misfires have certainly painted a wonky picture of expectation, but sometimes we really need not worry. After all, we remember when cynical people edited those first shots of Paddington from Paul King’s 2014 film into horror movie scenes (oh yes, we remember…), and look how that turned out eh?

That said, Clifford The Big Red Dog, based on Norman Bridwell’s book series of the same name, may not be quite Paddington level when it comes to masterful children's book-to-screen entertainment. But the audience will likely love it nonetheless. 

The plot follows young girl Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp), who is bullied at her school and struggles to fit in, but when her hard working mother leaves her in the care of her clumsy if well intentioned uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), Emily finds a new friend in the unlikeliest of places at an animal rescue tent, operated by the kind and mysterious Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese).

From the opening moments (this writer will be honest they teared up a bit), Clifford the Big Red Dog strikes you as something a tad unexpected and it grips you right there and then. Yes, the story does not shy away from some cliches and the CGI is not as seamless as others of its ilk, but this was a piece of family entertainment that didn’t need to desperately pander to cringingly forced modern whims (hello there Tom and Jerry: The Movie) but tapped into something more ageless and rather magical, an animal's power to bring us all together.

Clifford the Big Red Dog has a heart the size of its adorable CG star, and is accompanied by great messages about embracing our differences, having the confidence to change our world and celebrating the power of community. A fun treat for the little ones, which is likely to be adored in the same way this writer’s generation has come to embrace the likes of Hook, Space Jam, Flubber, Casper, The Grinch and Jumanji. It felt very much like a throwback, one free of the modern day family movie’s annoying obsession with execrable “trendy” gags and set pieces centred around tech-pushing corporate slants. 

Clifford is really rather lovely family entertainment and a great big hug of a film. Admittedly its story takes some wacky turns (with greedy lying cloning CEOs and whatnot) but with massively likeable performances from a diverse cast of really sweet characters (from Whitehall to the charming young Isaac Wang as Emily’s friend Owen), a great big dollop of warmth and one heck of a tribute to the source material and its maker in the shape of Cleese's enchanting role, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a joy to sit through for young and old alike. 

A Huge surprise.

Clifford The Big Red Dog is showing now, in cinemas and on Paramount+ in the US, it is released exclusively in cinemas on December 10th in the UK.