Every kid who has ever begged their parents for a dog and encountered resistance to the idea will love the film adaptation of the beloved children's books "Clifford the Big Red Dog."
Emily (Darby Camp) gets bullied quite frequently at school for being a scholarship student. The main bully, Florence (Mia Ronn), calls her "food stamp." Trying to cheer her up, her mom, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), tells Emily, "people who are unique are the ones who will change the world." A lovely sentiment, yes, but that doesn't help Emily battle the bullies.
When Maggie goes on a business trip for a couple of days, she enlists her down-on-his-luck younger brother, Casey (Jack Whitehall) to stay with Emily. Uncle Casey is really like a big kid himself, irresponsible and living out of the back of a graffiti-covered delivery truck. When Emily spots an animal rescue tent in the park at school, she begs Casey to go have a look.
There she meets the strange Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese), the character's name a nod to the late author of the Clifford books. Bridwell's menagerie of animals is impressive but when she's invited to ascend some ornate spiral stairs to a little platform, she finds a cute, little puppy; a very red, little puppy, who immediately takes a shine to her and her to him.
John Cleese as Mr. Bridwell in "Clifford the Big Red Dog." © 2021 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Since Emily lives in a New York apartment which doesn't allow pets of any kind, she asks Mr. Bridwell how big he'll get, wondering if she'd be able to hide him from the super, Packard (David Alan Grier). Bridwell answers, "How big is he going to get? Well, that depends on how much you love him."
You know there's a bit of magic in the air when Emily comes home from school and finds the puppy she left at the rescue tent, mysteriously stowed in her backpack. As she cuddles him after another day bullying, she whispers to the adorable canine, "I wish you were big and strong, then the world couldn't hurt us."
Darby Camp as Emily in "Clifford the Big Red Dog." © 2021 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Since the name of the film is "Clifford the Big Red Dog," you guessed it! When Emily wakes up in the morning, Clifford goes from being a tiny puppy to a 10-foot puppy with accompanying complications, especially when Packard visits the apartment to fix the dishwasher.
Unlike in 1963 when the first Clifford book was published, this modern Clifford's romp in the park goes viral on social media, capturing the attention of the film's villain, Zac Tieran (Tony Hale), head of Lyfegro, a company unsuccessfully trying to grow genetically modified big food to solve world hunger. When Tieran sees Clifford, he begins to plot how to capture the dog to discover the secrets of his size, practically wringing his hands in anticipation.
The antics of the film as Tieran and team try to seize Clifford make for a lot of good, clean fun, with role reversals as the adults have a food fight in the neighborhood bodega, do some sword fighting with kitchen utensils, and a car chase with Emily at the wheel of Uncle Casey's truck, plowing through New York City traffic as she and Owen (Izaac Wang), her one school friend, try to keep Clifford safe.
Clifford makes friends with the neighbors in "Clifford the Big Red Dog." © 2021 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
"Clifford the Big Red Dog" isn't a particularly deep film with any profound meaning, but it is a lot of fun, with just a touch of potty humor (such as when Clifford goes #1 and Casey sure hopes he's not around for #2) and a scene that you might want to discuss with the young ones when Maggie phones and both Casey and Emily debate about who is the better liar.
Knowing that I always try to make some kind of faith or values connection when reviewing a film, a friend of mine whom I told about the movie jokingly said to me, "How are you going to connect that with the Bible?"! At that time, I told her I wasn't sure yet but as I've been thinking about it, it all comes down to love being what pulls one through a crisis, whether or not that crisis involves a big red dog and whether the love is canine, human or divine.
For the kids, I hope they'll be inspired by Emily's courage in speaking up for herself and her beloved dog when it seems everyone is against them. As Mr. Bridwell tells her, "If you want them to listen, you better speak."
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.