By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Coming to Theatres Nov 11, 2021
Clifford the Big Red Dog joins a long line of illustrative products turned to film. For this particular IP created by Norman Bridwell, it’s also been a long running television series. There’s been many adaptations throughout the decades, ranging from Garfield to Marmaduke to Paddington, and as for why they’re beloved lies with what the animal’s relationship is with the human. They often help a troubled individual understand the world.
Older fans will notice references to the original publications. The story about Emily (Darby Camp) is not fitting in at school isn’t too new. She’s more socially awkward than anything else. The older students are bullying her, and by helping the dog out, she’s helping herself. It’s a good story.
This narrative isn’t complex as this subplot really doesn’t amount to much by the end. Her monologue is flat since the various elements don’t nicely come together. The more complex one concerns how Peter Tieran (Tony Hale), the CEO of Lifegro, turns bad and if can redeem himself. He has a plan to change the world for the better, but once Clifford enters the picture, he quickly turns into a stock villain. The company name is far too obvious, and I thought it existed to explain how the puppy would grow into a giant. Thankfully, that is not the case.
Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese) is the only person who knows why everything is happening. His persona is a charming mix of Mary Poppins and Albus Dumbledore; all we know of him is that he rescues animals and helps find them a home. Like in Harry Potter, the wand chooses the handler. In this film’s case, the dog found a connection with the girl. Just how he ended up in her backpack by the end of the first act doesn’t need to be explained.
What I find amusing with these films is that when we know these CGI animals are from a comic strip world, we can always expect chaos to erupt. Like in Popper’s Penguins, the human better learn to adapt or make them part of the family. The fact this film is set in a neighbourhood in Manhatten, New York says it all. In the business side of this city, it’s a dog eat dog world. For family life, everyone is just trying to get by. The canine is conveniently around to cause chaos (and save people). More camera tricks were needed so that viewers aren’t looking at certain canine body parts. These are often CGI’ed out but sometimes, all it takes is tighter than wide angle shots. When considering the size of Clifford, it’s needed.
As for whether more films will come, I’m sure the book publisher Scholastic and film studio Paramount have plans. The introduction to the crazy folks in the neighbourhood Em and Clifford live in shows us who can easily take the lead should Camp grow up too fast. Besides, Owen (Izaac Wang) nearly steals the movie. He has a crush on Em, and I want to see where this goes.
3 Arfs out of 5