“Clifford the Big Red Dog” tells a story of puppy love


Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Darby Camp and Jack Whitehall (above) lead the way for a modern retelling of “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

Scout Carter, Staff Writer

When I was little, all I wanted was a big red dog. This desire was shaped by the media in my life, as I wanted one just like the one I saw in the books my mom read at bedtime and in TV episodes on PBS every weekend, all starring Clifford, the iconic “big red dog.” Now, the tradition of wishing for an outrageously sized pet in your home has been passed down to the younger generation in the new live action movie “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Though the film doesn’t exactly follow its book and television precursors, it does reshape itself to inspire a new generation of dog lovers. 

Clifford’s story has mainly remained the same throughout his time across page and screen: Emily Elizabeth is a young girl who gets a tiny red dog as a pet, named Clifford, who then grows to the size of a house overnight because of the love that Emily gives him. Stories usually show the pair having to deal with the difficult situations Clifford’s size puts them in. The premise was originally created by Norman Bridwell, a children’s author and illustrator who pitched the fantastical idea to nine different publishers before Scholastic picked him up. There have been countless books, the first being published in 1963, and a very well known TV show from the 2000s, establishing it as a staple in the childhoods of many of the past generations. This larger than life premise, it seems, was a perfect contender to be part of the onslaught of live action franchise revivals that have been released in recent years. 

This movie diverts from its foundational material even if it seems similar to the overall premise. While there is still a little girl and her abnormally large dog, there’s also an Elon Musk-esque billionaire who runs a sketchy famine relief company, a plot to send Clifford to a sanctuary in Shanghai and a high speed police chase following Emily and Clifford. Within the first couple minutes of the movie we can tell that Emily is clearly not the sweet girl next door we’re used to seeing. She makes sarcastic remarks to her mother and pop culture references, making her a much more relatable character to younger audiences. She is known as “food stamps” at school due to her relative poverty at the prestigious private academy she attends through a scholarship. We also see the diverse neighborhood of New York that Emily lives in and meet wacky characters such as the Siberian crazy lady who lives in her building, the bodega owner with a prosthetic hand and her only friend in school, the brainy Owen Yu. When Clifford arrives, characters actually acknowledge his absurd size rather than ignoring it like previous iterations, with nobody exactly knowing how best to deal with it. 

Each of these changes establish how this movie is set up for a new generation. In many ways, it is certainly a 2021 version of the classic tale, which is very bittersweet. I laughed at some of the jokes and was delighted by the typical dog antics that Clifford engages in, like chasing a giant inflatable ball. However, I also initially found myself longing for the simplicity of the show I used to wake up early to watch. Did we really need a multi-millionaire looking to use Clifford’s genetic structure to analyze how he got to be so big? But I soon realized these differences from my memories are what make this movie special. Because of these changes, Clifford’s themes are modernized, telling younger viewers to stick up for themselves when they’re being bullied, while displaying the benefits of a diverse community. Of course there are issues with the story, but at its heart it is a message of love. Clifford grows from Emily’s love, and while many dogs don’t grow to be quite as big as Clifford, there is nothing like the love between a dog and its owner. Personally, I know both of my dogs certainly seemed to grow overnight, and we gave them all the attention they deserved. That kind of love is real, even if some parts of the movie don’t reflect reality.

No children’s movie will ever be perfect, especially to an adult who has grown up with a franchise being a certain way. But there are a lot of great things about adapting a story to appeal to a younger audience, one being that Clifford the Big Red Dog will continue to be relevant for years to come. It’s good to have representation of the caring relationship one can have with their pet, even if they’re 10 feet tall.