Sunday, November 21, 2021

Clifford the Big Red Dog (Film)

While I may have a limited exposure to Clifford the Big Red Dog, I had enough from my childhood that the trailers for the live-action adaptation, which went in and out of development for years, didn’t really inspire confidence. I did, however, decide to watch it for free through Paramount+ under the idea that while I wouldn’t pay money to watch it, I’d still give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) turned out much better than I had expected based on its own rocky development and early trailers. Unfortunately, this version of Clifford turned out closer to how I feared Sonic would.

Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp) feels out of place at the private middle school she attends in New York City, with the geeky Owen Yu (Izaac Wang) as her only friend. When her mother, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), goes away on a business trip, Emily Elizabeth is left in the care of her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), an irresponsible man who lives his truck. While Casey tries to bond with her, they go to an animal rescue tent at a carnival, where they meet the magical Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese), who introduces Emily Elizabeth to a red puppy. Although she doesn’t take the puppy with her, he later appears in her apartment and she names him Clifford. The next day, she and Casey discover that Clifford has grown tremendously. Though they try hiding Clifford, they instead end up dealing with the attention he brings them.

For the most part, Clifford the Big Red Dog feels less like a real Clifford movie and more like a generic family film featuring Clifford. Plot points feel cliché and predictable, as do the jokes that seem based entirely in the premise that Clifford is a dog. For example, he’s a dog, so he must chase balls, there must be butt sniffing and he must urinate. Emily Elizabeth’s eccentric neighbors, while interesting, also felt one-dimensional, though most of the supporting cast didn’t have much depth either. There were moments that made me chuckle, but usually only when John Cleese and Kenan Thompson were onscreen.

The film has its moments, but they are few and far between; Pictured: Clifford (Top),
Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp, Left), Casey Howard (Jack Whitehall, Right)

There is a villain of sorts named Zack Tieran (Tony Hale), the owner of biotechnology company Lyfegro, though he too doesn’t have much depth, doing whatever he can to claim Clifford as his own. Actually, when Lyfegro is first introduced in the story, it looked like they would have some involvement in Clifford’s unusual size, though any interesting ideas that could have come from that are tossed aside in favor of magic. While magic as a device isn’t inherently a bad thing, the way the film goes about it just makes one realize just how much more believable Clifford feels in animation (the end credits, in fact, feature an aesthetically pleasing 2D style).

Speaking of Clifford, the film actually does a great job at giving him a physical presence in the world, with different objects and textures realistically responding to his weight and movements. However, when Clifford is initially small, the consistency can get a little dodgy here and there. The film also features obvious product placement for Zillow, Little Debbie snack cakes and, most brazenly, Honeycomb cereal. During the Honeycomb scene in particular, the box itself proves distracting and observant viewers may notice some bad visual continuity, as the box suddenly changes position between two particular shots.

In a similar vein, Clifford actually sounds like a real dog, though that’s the highest praise for the audio. Otherwise, the score sounds bland and forgettable while the songs, both licensed and original, sound decent but are otherwise predictable in tone.

There’s not much to say about this attempt at Clifford the Big Red Dog, considering its generic and predictable nature. Small children and some families may find more enjoyment in it, but I would suggest looking elsewhere for a better Clifford story.

No comments:

Post a Comment