Judge Lacey Worrell applauds the big-screen adventures of everyone's favorite oversized tawny canine.
Our reviews of Clifford the Big Red Dog: Clifford's Doghouse Adventures (published March 14th, 2007), Clifford The Big Red Dog: Be My Big Red Valentine (published February 20th, 2008), Clifford The Big Red Dog: Clifford Tries His Best/Clifford's Schoolhouse (published March 22nd, 2005), Clifford The Big Red Dog: Dog Days Of Summer (published July 17th, 2011), Clifford The Big Red Dog: Everyone Loves Clifford (published May 7th, 2005), and Clifford The Big Red Dog: Playtime With Clifford (published February 20th, 2008) are also available.
"You gotta get lost if you wanna get found."
I hate clichés like "family fun" or "a heartwarming tale," but Clifford's Really Big Movie fits the bill.
Facts of the Case
Clifford the Big Red Dog (John Ritter, Three's Company) becomes an animal performer along with his good friends Cleo and T-Bone in order to win a lifetime supply of his favorite dog treats. Problems abound along the way. Clifford's owner, Emily Elizabeth, is left behind, unsure of where her beloved oversized dog might be. Clifford clashes with the star of a ragtag animal show, an obnoxious ferret named Shackelford, and just when it looks like victory is theirs, Clifford is kidnapped!
Will Clifford and Emily Elizabeth ever be reunited? Will "Larry's Amazing Animals" pull off their death-defying stunts and win the lifetime supply of Tummy Yummies? Will Clifford ever manage to put Shackelford in his place? Oh come on, this is a kid's movie, people. Figure it out.
On the surface, Clifford's Really Big Movie is your standard kids' flick: a road trip, some angst, a resolution. Look deeper, however, and you will find that what seems so standard really isn't.
Entertainment aimed at children is often heavily didactic; it means well, but it ends up hitting them over the head with moral lessons. This film's approach, however, is so gentle that children will instantly relate to the central conflict and manage to enjoy themselves in the process. The film explores common feelings such as jealousy in depth, along with offering a subtle tutorial in conflict resolution. Clifford leaves home because he is worried he has become a burden to his family; he has a sincere desire to help earn his keep. The conflict he experiences with Shackelford has an intensity rarely seen in children's programming. Once Clifford and Shackelford understand each other's motivations, though, they are better able to interact.
Television fans take note: This DVD features the voice talents of many of your favorite stars. Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), the most underrated man on television, is the voice of Shackelford, Clifford's nemesis. Without Shackelford's occasionally grating but welcome presence, this movie wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Other voice talents include Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg), Kel Mitchell (Kenan & Kel), Wilmer Valderrama (That '70s Show), Cree Summer (A Different World), and Ernie Hudson (10-8). Also listen for John Goodman's (Roseanne) distinctive voice as the man who kidnaps Clifford in order to add to his bratty daughter's collection of big things. Goodman, who in addition to acting is a talented singer, also stole the show as Baloo the Bear in Disney's otherwise forgettable Jungle Book 2.
The seven-minute behind-the-scenes featurette is a must-see. It is unique because it is geared toward children and focuses on the faces behind the voices as well as the animation process. Actors talk about being able to work in their pajamas and the challenges of voicing characters without the ability to interact with the other actors. John Ritter's comments are especially poignant given his death shortly after this movie was made.
The overall quality of this DVD is amazing. The colors and picture have an intensity I haven't seen since Disney's Lilo and Stitch. Even the preview for the upcoming The Polar Express is breathtakingly beautiful. Extras abound as well; the read-along stories are a nice diversion, and the inclusion of suggested craft activities to make at home is a unique feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Children under the age of four may be thrown by the fact that this big-screen interpretation of Clifford looks very different from the simple animation on the daily television show. Parents should also keep in mind that unlike much of the family fare out there—Finding Nemo and Shrek 2 instantly spring to mind—this movie is aimed solidly at the kiddie set. There isn't much to hold adults' attention.
In light of the passing of John Ritter, who wasn't particularly well known for this lasting contribution to children's entertainment, this is a sweet swan song.
Judgment in favor of Clifford's Really Big Movie; it is a solid investment for families who do not have a big DVD budget and therefore need films their children can watch over and over (and over) again. The kids will want to, I promise. If they don't, feel free to pelt me with virtual Tummy Yummies.
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