Plot: What’s it about?
I’m going to go on the assumption that most anyone reading this has heard of Clifford. Yes, the giant red dog that was always getting himself into shenanigans. The books date back to the early 60’s and ended its run in the late 90’s. Certainly these books have been read by countless children around the world. It’s odd that it took this long to bring this lovable pup to the screen, but given the critical and commercial praise of films like Peter Rabbit and Paddington, it was only a matter of time. Director Walt Becker, who also helmed Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is in somewhat familiar territory here, once again bringing iconic children’s characters to the big screen. With this experience, we can assume the movie would be on autopilot. Would we assume correctly?
Casey (Jack Whitehall) is a perpetual screw-up who lives in the back of a moving van. His sister goes out of town on business and he’s called to help watch her daughter, Emily (Darby Camp). They visit an animal rescue that’s been set up in the park and meet Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese), a mysterious man who tries to pawn a red puppy off on them. Casey passes, but lo and behold, the next morning she wakes up to find it in her backpack. Emily makes a wish for Clifford to be “big and strong” and as we all know, that wish comes true. We’d expect Emily and Clifford to have an adventure or two, but this is where the movie derails…We’re introduced to an evil corporation run by Tieran (Tony Hale) who wants to kidnap Clifford to experiment on him.
It almost sounds like a cruel joke. You’ve got one of the most beloved children’s books come to life in Clifford. And it stats out OK, but the whole “evil corporation wanting to experiment on a dog” thing was not the right call here. Clifford’s antics were what made the stories so enjoyable and that’s simply not present. That and Jack Whitehall is trying to seemingly nail the Ryan Reynolds schtick that, as we know, only Reynolds can do. I’m sure there’s a message in the film, but there doesn’t have to be. It should have been a slam dunk to bring this to screen and give a new generation of kids what they’ve likely read countless times. Nope. The target audience might appreciate the movie for a few laughs, but there are other – far better – family films out there. It’s a shame they had to ruin this one.
Video: How’s it look?
Clifford The Big Red Dog is presented a rather substandard 2.00:1 AVC HD image. This transfer looks good, but doesn’t rank as one of the best out there. As expected, the colors have been juiced to the moon and hues look rich and vivid. I found contrast to be solid, with deep blacks and no real concerns I could detect. The detail is good, but doesn’t display the kind of subtle visual depth I’d like, but is miles better than the standard release. So while this might not pop as much as we’d want, the movie still looks good and should please fans.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This lossless DTS HD Master Audio option is lively and fun, but never rises above basic standards. The surrounds are put to good use, especially when the musical numbers are on, but the depth and power isn’t there. This is fine though, given the nature of the movie and since all the audio elements sound good, there’s no cause for concern. The music is loud and clear, sound effects are well-handled, and vocals come across with no problems.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Part of the Pack – Get a behind-the-scenes look at Clifford’s big movie with interviews from cast and crew.
- Acting is for the Dogs – There’s more to Clifford than meets the eye: meet the puppeteers who brought the giant red pup to life!
- The Magic of Bridwell – See where Clifford’s big adventure began from creator Norman Bridwell’s early drawings for the beloved Scholastic book series to Clifford’s worldwide fame.
- Tips & Tricks for Taking Care of a 10-Foot Dog – Get hilarious tips on how to take care of a giant dog!
- Deleted Scenes
The Bottom Line
Clifford The Big Red Dog won’t be for everyone. It’s not supposed to be. But I feel like it was an opportunity missed given the generations of fans that have grown up with the lovable and giant pup. I don’t know how parents will feel having their children exposed to something like this. I’d rent Paddington instead.