Opening 2 Dec 2021
Writing credits: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Blaise Hemingway, Justin Malen, Ellen Rapoport
Principal actors: Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall, Izaac Wang, John Cleese, Sienna Guillory
After being turned down by fifteen publishing houses, Norman Ray Bridwell was showing his illustrations to an editor at Harper & Row (New York City) whose chance comment led Bridwell to create Clifford the Big Red Dog children’s stories. That resulted in forty bestsellers, plus merchandising, three TV-animated series, a stage musical, and now this eponymous live-action-animation film. The American author-cartoonist’s books, numbering in the millions, are translated into 13 languages.
A little fire-engine red puppy gets lost when his family, quite suddenly, move houses. Concurrently, Emily (Darby Camp) and mom (Sienna Guillory) are acclimating themselves to NYC. Particularly, 6th-grader Emily being bullied by snobby girls at the upscale school she attends. Only scrawny, nerdy Owen (Izaac Wang) befriends Emily. Meanwhile, amicable, enigmatic Mr Bridwell (John Cleese) rescues the disorientated red puppy, because saving animals of every make and size is his interest. Required at a business meeting in Chicago, Maggie turns to scatter-brained brother Casey (Jack Whitehall) to take care of Emily. The next morning they meet Mr Bridwell and the red dog at an animal rescue event; later, astoundingly, the dog appears in Emily’s backpack. Following day, they are transfixed to see newly named Clifford’s ginormous size, just as grouchy, “no pets allowed” building superintendent (David Alan Grier) knocks. Now the fun really begins: vile Zack Tieran (Tony Hale), owner of a genetics company, learns about Clifford and contrives to steal him. Without help from Owen’s dad (Russell Wong), and the warmhearted neighborhood, no telling how this story would have turned out.
Director Walt Becker (Alvin und die Chipmunks: Road Chip, 2015), working from Ellen Rapoport and Justin Malen’s screenplay based on Bridwell’s classic children book, balances the stolidly predictable set-ups with laugh-out-loud slapstick sequences, heartwarming scenes, and quirky characters. The main cast performances captivate, and Whitehall and Camp’s comedic timing is impressive, as is the fantastic supporting cast: Emily’s milk-consumed neighbor Tovah Feldshuh; neighborhood shopkeepers Paul Rodriguez, Horatio Sanz, and Russell Peters; the veterinarian Tony Hale and receptionist Rosie Perez are but a few. The CGI-animated Clifford is a cuddly, screaming-red plush velvet dog with twinkling glassy-eyes, and tail-thumping rambunctiousness that easily steals our hearts. Production values are good, and the opening/closing credits illustrations worth seeing. Clifford the Big Red Dog delivers big-time on good-value, frolicking entertainment just in time for families to start the Holidays. (Marinell Haegelin)