By Noah Tang
As a child, I occasionally watched “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Clifford’s Puppy Days.” Although I do not remember them very well, those shows left enough of an impression for me to understand the significance of this new movie. To my knowledge, this is the first time that Clifford has been translated into live-action.
The movie starts with Clifford’s birth family squatting in an abandoned factory and then being taken by animal control. However, the workers fail to apprehend Clifford, who is hiding underneath a blanket. The anxious puppy desperately tries to rejoin his family, but the employees close the garage door, blocking his path.
Clifford eventually figures out how to leave the factory and discovers the outside world. He meets Mr. Bridwell, an on-screen version of the real-life author of the original Clifford books. In some ways, this character serves as the movie’s metaphor for God: He takes Clifford in, causes him to meet Emily Elizabeth and possesses seemingly magical powers.
Speaking of Emily Elizabeth, she is reimagined as an intelligent yet shy middle-schooler who lives with her mother Maggie in Harlem. Although Emily is quite gifted, she is bullied by the other girls at school. Her mom tries to encourage her, explaining that “people who are unique, they’re the ones that change the world.” This line becomes key to Emily’s character arc, and over the movie, she learns to stand up for herself.
As a paralegal, Maggie is sent to advise a case in Chicago. She asks her younger brother Casey to watch Emily. Unfortunately, Casey is their last choice for a sitter: he lives in a truck, can’t keep a job and is generally irresponsible. However, the responsibility of caring for Emily (and later, Clifford) pushes Casey to mature, and he grows much through his experiences in the movie.
Emily’s love for Clifford motivates her in the face of her struggles, especially the bullying she experiences. She defies a greedy corporation to protect him. She endures various difficulties in hopes of keeping Clifford since she feels that his love gives her the strength to face her problems head-on. At one point, she asks, “what if you found someone who was so full of love they made you feel like you could do anything?”
Yet no story would be complete without some colorful side characters. Owen is another smart kid in Emily’s class. Because he stands by her while she’s being bullied, they develop a wholesome friendship. Owen’s father, Mr. Yu, helps Emily and Casey at a crucial time. Running several businesses, he uses them to do good, in contrast to the antagonist of this movie. The diverse neighbors in Emily’s community help her when she needs it most.
Mr. Tieran, the leader of Lyfegro, is the movie’s main bad guy. His company seeks to increase the world’s food supply through genetic engineering. Although this is a noble goal, Mr. Tieran will stop at nothing to achieve it: He plans to steal Clifford, experiment on him and use the secret of his large size to produce food on a large scale. Never mind what might happen to Clifford in the process; to Mr. Tieran, the end justifies the means.
I enjoyed “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” It is clean, kid-friendly and funny. The movie’s message of embracing one’s individuality is quite fitting, given the titular character. Less so is the disrespect toward authority that some characters demonstrate, as well as some gratuitous lying. But overall, this movie is a wholesome one.
“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is now streaming on Paramount Plus.
Noah Tang is a super-senior Business Management major and a writer for Cedars. He likes to spend time with friends, study theology and watch movies.