'Clifford the Big Red Dog' Doesn't Have Any Bite Directed by Walt Becker

Starring Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong, John Cleese
'Clifford the Big Red Dog' Doesn't Have Any Bite Directed by Walt Becker
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Not every movie is meant for everyone. It's important to remember that with Clifford the Big Red Dog. Some kids movies are just meant for kids — despite what Paddington 2 has led us to expect with live-action remakes of beloved children's books.

Clifford is a simple film with heart and some humour. It doesn't attempt to be something more than an elephant-sized red puppy running around New York City adored by a young girl, Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp). An interesting choice director Walt Becker makes is focusing the film on Emily Elizabeth and her Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), rather than the film's namesake.

Uncle Casey is an immature, last-resort babysitter for Emily Elizabeth while her mom (Sienna Guillory) is away on business. The two come across an animal rescue tent in a carnival outside Emily Elizabeth's school, which is run by the whimsical Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese). Mr. Bridwell gives Emily Elizabeth a normal-sized red puppy, telling her that he will grow according to the love he receives.

Of course, this puppy turns into the large Clifford we know overnight after Emily Elizabeth loves him and wishes for him to grow big and strong. The film then follows Emily Elizabeth and Uncle Casey attempting to hide/protect/save Clifford. Camp and Whitehall are a good team — Whitehall's silly humour and Camp's good-natured innocence are an excellent match.

Now, let's talk about Clifford. The CGI can be clunky, but there are moments of lively vibrancy from the cute pup. He (thankfully) doesn't say a word throughout the film, and plays his part in the slapstick routines well. What CGI-Clifford doesn't do, though, is capture the character and charisma of Clifford from the source material so many of us grew up with.

As in most kids movies, there are many themes and lessons to be learned. Bullying is touched on with Emily Elizabeth being nicknamed "Food Stamps" by her classmates at the private school she attends on a scholarship. The importance of community and family are prevalent. And the baddie, Zack Tieran (Tony Hale), the owner of a genetics company, is on the hunt for Clifford, determined to solve the world's hunger problem with genetically-modified livestock. You know, light kids stuff.

Becker's attempt to bring to life one of the most cherished dogs in children's literature isn't a home run, but there are moments that show the potential of a live-action adaptation. Clifford the Big Red Dog may leave adults wanting, but a child should find entertainment and joy from it. And who knows, maybe it will inspire their next purchase when the Scholastic Book Fair is in town. That's still a thing, right? (eOne)