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Big love

Live-action movie Clifford the Big Red Dog is a simple story of love, loyalty, and a big red dog

Paramount Pictures

Big love

Young readers and their parents have enjoyed Clifford the Big Red Dog books since 1963. Author and illustrator Norman Bridwell created his lovable canine stories based on his childhood desire for a dog as big as a horse. Now fans can see Clifford the Big Red Dog in its first live-action adaptation in theaters and on Paramount+.

Most Clifford books show the dog with his owner, Emily, facing new challenges like going to school or learning how to be polite. Each had an underlying moral lesson. The movie steps it up a notch with plenty of positive messages and simple interwoven plots that will appeal to kids.

The tale tells how 12-year-old Emily, played by Darby Camp, and Clifford meet: An eccentric old man (John Cleese) named Mr. Bridwell—in honor of Clifford’s creator—magically brings Emily and a cute little red puppy together. When she asks how big he’ll get, Mr. Bridwell enigmatically answers, “That depends on how much you love him.”

After Emily falls asleep with Clifford in her arms, she wakes up in the morning to find Clifford has grown huge, and the antics begin. Kids will enjoy watching the oversized puppy turning circles in a small Manhattan apartment as his tail wreaks havoc. Emily’s single mom is away on business, leaving Emily’s impulsive but kind Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) to stay with Emily.

A familiar main plot entails avoiding a genetics company’s evil owner (Tony Hale), desperate to capture Clifford. He wants Clifford’s genes for experiments to grow large food items to feed the world—and get rich. Subplots involve mean girls at school, a heartless landlord, Casey’s quest for maturity, and of course, how to handle a crimson pup that barely fits in the back of a truck.

The movie, rated PG, is a playful romp with a fetching, fresh-faced, and likable Camp leading the cast. Thanks to the marvels of computer-generated imagery, an enormous Clifford fits right in with his human counterparts, almost inviting the audience to stroke his realistic puppy fur.

No anti-heroes here, and no nuanced messages: Characters talk about the importance of love and loyalty. Family and friendships are elevated. Bullies get their comeuppance. Differences, including Clifford’s, are celebrated. Emily says, “If we can love each other like this, none of us would have to feel small or alone again.”

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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