I’d have given Clifford the Big Red Dog two extra stars if at any point its star John Cleese had even obliquely referred to a dead parrot.
The former Monty Python member and dead parrot purchaser plays Bridwell, dealer in rare and exotic animals and possible cousin of Mr. Magorium. When little Emily (Darby Camp) and her layabout uncle (Jack Whitehall) stumble into his pop-up store on their way to her school in New York City, she winds up the owner of a carmine canine that looks like Hellboy’s hound.
Clifford is a tiny puppy, capable of fitting into a backpack. But after an ill-timed wish from his new owner, he grows to mammoth proportions overnight. Now Emily has to figure out what to do with him, all the while battling Tieran (Tony Hale), an evil geneticist whose company, LyfeGro, is trying (and failing) to create giant animals as a source of food.
It’s a bizarre coincidence, this huge crimson mutt co-existing with an evil scientist yet apparently having nothing to do with said scientist’s plans. It’s as if Bruce Banner gained his powers after wishing on a star, but also while working in a gamma-ray testing facility. You’d be forgiven for wondering if there might be a connection.
But this is the least of the problems for Clifford the Big Red Dog , based on the children’s book series from the late Norman Bridwell. There’s also the filmmakers’ apparent need to include a variety of animal-effluent jokes, and one jaw-droppingly weird scene in which Whitehall’s character seems about to do something with hand sanitizer that would have chased away this film’s PG rating. Here’s hoping your kids don’t notice.
And kids are clearly the target market for Clifford, which has been in development for so long that at one point the yet-unmade film had a tentative release date of April 2016. (A planned world premiere at the Toronto film festival in September was scuttled over COVID concerns.) Children are unlikely to notice the various comedians and/or Saturday Night Live alumni in supporting roles, although adults can have fun spotting them.
Clifford’s computer-generated nature isn’t egregious, though it does cause the movie to suffer from the same problem as last year’s The Call of the Wild ; namely, animated pooches behaving as though being directed (in this case by Walt Becker) and not just being animals. At the risk of being labeled a grump, I’ll add that back in my day we’d have got this done with a can of red paint, a bit of forced perspective and a healthy donation to the American Humane Association. Woof.