Clifford the Big Red Dog Blu-ray Review – Cinelinx
After Emily (Darby Camp) adopts a tiny red puppy, he grows nearly ten feet tall overnight, turning her life upside down and catching the attention of an unscrupulous CEO (Tony Hale). Based on the classic series of children’s books by Norman Bridwell. Also stars Jack Whitehall, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier and John Cleese. Directed by Walt Becker.
Clifford the Big Red Dog has been delighting children for nearly 60 years, thanks to dozens of bestselling children’s books and a popular PBS animated series. Paramount finally gave Clifford a live-action big-screen adaptation late last year, and it’s available now on both Blu-ray and the Paramount+ streaming service.
Clifford’s broad fandom means the film had inevitable expectations and preconceived notions to live up to. Fans will likely be happy to know that the film will entertain the elementary-aged audience it’s targeting, while still staying true to the source material.
Clifford the Red Bog Dog works because it doesn’t do what so many kids movies do these days. He is not trying to openly sell us goods; it doesn’t look like a feature-length trailer for the inevitable sequel, nor does it try to “update” the characters for modern times. It’s sweet and funny, and features a simple moral story about the importance of love, loyalty, and friendship.
That said, the film does not innovate in terms of cinema. Clichés and narrative archetypes abound: Emily (Camp) is a scholarship kid at an elite private school where she doesn’t quite fit in, thanks to a bullied rich kid. A ruthless corporate CEO (Hale) is the big bad guy who wants Clifford to make money off of him. Random fights break out just to create conflict, and the finale is a big chase scene and an inevitable speech in a public place, with a large group of people and police dropping everything to listen to him.
While the film relies on these cliches to provide some kind of plot, the film is still a fun watch, as the screenplay by Jay Scherick, David Ronn, and Blaise Hemingway injects genuine humor and sweet, heartfelt moments. The cast is pretty good, led by Darby Camp (The Christmas Chronicles), who is perfect as Emily. Child actors in modern films often irritate me, as they exaggerate and show little emotional nuance in their performance. Camp, however, projects genuine warmth and sympathy into the lead role, which is essential when the main character is a CGI dog. She really makes the movie work, even when some jokes don’t quite pull it off.
Jack White Hall (Jungle Cruise) doesn’t fare as well as Uncle Casey, the awkward and immature adult figure in the story (Emily’s mother is out of town for most of the film). Admittedly, it doesn’t have much material to work with, but its overall silliness is too over the top for all but the youngest viewers.
John Cleese is terrific in his limited role as Bridwell, an animal rescuer who brings Clifford into Emily’s life. He brings the right amount of gravitas to his role as Fairy Godfather, and he’s backed by a number of character actors and “Saturday Night Live” alumni, including David Alan Grier (Jumanji), Paul Rodriquez, Tovah Feldshuh (“The Walking Dead”), Horatio Sanz, Kenan Thompson and Russell Wong.
Clifford himself doesn’t quite come across as the warm, lovable character from the books and cartoons. He’s mainly there to look cute and create mayhem, but he won’t really connect emotionally with the kids, which is a little disappointing. Clifford’s CGI is serviceable, though what should have been the showpiece scene featuring Emily riding him through New York falls flat, thanks to janky digital effects. In an age when CGI characters in movies are able to convey a bit more life and soul, Clifford hasn’t quite hit the mark.
Although silly and stereotypical, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a fun and often heartfelt diversion that kids will love. Parents won’t care at all and manage to laugh themselves out in a movie that’s better than most other kids movies these days. It’s a solid choice for family movie night and a worthy addition to a Blu-ray collection.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Clifford’s The Blu-ray transfer is pretty solid, delivering a crisp picture and natural colors. While the image was good, I found the high definition transfer highlighted any inconsistencies in Clifford’s color. It wasn’t a problem with the transfer, but with the shades of red that the visual effects artists gave Clifford. Sometimes it was a darker crimson, and other times a brighter candy red. On top of that, CGI artists would often add a lighter sheen to the fur to make it look more realistic in the sun. I found these different shades a bit boring, but I doubt the kids would notice at all. I realize that red is a difficult color to replicate consistently on screen, and the fire engine red that Clifford has in the books and cartoons doesn’t translate well to film. Can’t fault the video quality for this, but it’s worth noting.
The English audio track is in Dolby Atmos, and it sounds great for a kids movie. There’s not a whole lot of low-end boom or seat rumble to offer, but the clarity is good enough and the music balances well across the channels. Paramount has crammed eight extra non-English language tracks onto the Blu-ray, which is a nice touch.
I actually had a chance to compare the Blu-ray to the Paramount+ streaming version, and as you’d expect, the Blu-ray offers a superior viewing experience. Images are sharper, pixel-free, and colors are richer and deeper. Audio-wise, Paramount+ only provides a 5.1 audio mix, while Blu-ray provides a far superior Dolby Atmos track.
I’ve always advocated buying a 4k/Blu-ray of a movie you like, even if it’s available on a streaming service you subscribe to. The main reason is that you never have to worry about that movie becoming unavailable for streaming at some point – a reality that more and more viewers have discovered. Additionally, video and audio are far superior on disc as opposed to online streaming. This is not a knock on the quality of service provided by Paramount+ or any other streaming service. Any streaming service will compress the video and audio quality of the movie you are watching in order to stream it quickly over the internet without lag. Although the movie looks good and sounds good, it will never be as good as the uncompressed presentation that a disc provides. As high-end televisions and audio equipment become more affordable, the difference in quality becomes more apparent. Your children may not notice it, but you will definitely see and hear the improvement.
The Blu-ray has a number of fun behind-the-scenes features that will answer your questions about how they pulled off a 10ft CGI dog in the movie.
The bonuses are as follows:
Featurette “Part of the Pack”. This behind-the-scenes short features extensive filming footage and interviews with director Walt Becker, producer Jordan Kerner and cast members Darby Camp, Izaac Wang, John Cleese and Jack Whitehall. Duration: 6:34
“Playing is for dogs” featurette. Although Clifford is a CGI character, he needed two physical puppeteers to bring him to life. This featurette introduces us to Rowan Magee and Jon Riddleberger, the two artists on set who provided Clifford’s physical movements that the actors had to react to. It’s a very interesting look at how movie magic works. Duration: 3:20
Featurette “The Magic of Bridwell”. This fantastic featurette spotlights the late Norman Bridwell, the creator of Clifford. Bridwell, who is shown in older interviews, explains how he conceived the idea of a big red dog, wrote and illustrated the book, and finally had it published in 1963. Duration: 7:11
“Tips and Tricks for Caring for a 10ft Dog” Featurette. This tongue-in-cheek guide to dealing with giant dogs features a number of clips from the film. Duration: 2:28
Deleted scenes. Three deleted scenes are included: “Dr. Russ”, “Finding Bridwell” and “Animal Blessings”. Total running time: 2:50
Digital copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable from providers such as VUDU and iTunes, is included. Paramount codes are not redeemable through the Movies Anywhere service.
Release date: February 1, 2022
Duration: 96 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.00:1
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Audio Description, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, six additional language tracks
Subtitles: English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish, six additional languages
Click here to order Clifford the Big Red Dog on Blu-ray from Amazon!