Clifford the Big Red Dog has never been my favorite children’s book, and I vaguely remember watching some animated episodes with my son as he progressed from the intolerable Barney to the more likable children’s programs like The Smurfs. The in-between spot found him watching this giant puppy rampaging through the streets of his small town, and it made him happy to watch animals, so I vaguely remember accepting the giant dog. I had similarly blaise expectations for the live-action film – and was blown away by the degree to which the CGI dog and his human co-actors won me over.
To say that I was sarcastic about the film’s chances, or that my son now a teenager was exponentially more skeptical of the movie, would be gross understatements. Instead, as Darby Camp (Christmas Chronicles) navigates the bullying of her overwhelming private school as Emily Elizabeth and interacts with the exploration of adulthood that passes for Jack Whitehall’s Uncle Casey, I found the humanity of her experience endearing. Add in the gift of Clifford via John Cleese’s eccentric old man, and the dastardly (and clearly damaged) entrepreneur played by Tony Hale, and there’s just enough mischief and mayhem to go with the big-hearted story.
But this isn’t just about E.E. and her big red dog. It’s also about the way that the community, the neighborhood, the burrough comes together. This is so New York, so American, so how we should handle adversity that it left me a little teary-eyed. And suddenly it wasn’t just a children’s book come to life, it was a testimony to the way that we say we’re “together” and neighbors and community … and 2021 and earlier have shown us we have so far to go.
In the end, this is a fantastic film to watch as a family, or by yourself quite frankly, and it reminds us of what we could be if we’d follow our better angels and tune out the noise outside.
Or maybe, quite simply, it tells us to follow our hearts – the hearts we had when we were little kids and we thought the world was one big adventure, and every new person we met would probably be our friend.
Clifford The Big Red Dog is available now on Digital and on Blu-ray and DVD February 1st, 2022.