Big, noisy, harmless, and a little clumsy -- yep, that's Clifford, the Big Red Dog. And it's "Clifford's Really Big Movie," too.
Preschoolers who are charmed by the gentle antics of the giant dog on his TV series and in its many related paper products (loosely known as books) will probably be equally charmed by the movie, even though its awkward attempt at 3-D animation gives it a different look and feel. The youngest ones may be scared by a few loud noises -- a rattling train, Clifford's pounding feet, a burglar alarm -- but comforting them will give their parents something to do. The movie provides few other diversions for anyone too old for sippy cups.
It's not dreadful, just dull. The plot trots out Clifford (voiced, as on TV, by the late John Ritter, to whom the movie is fittingly dedicated) and his sidekicks -- dimwitted T-Bone, the little tan dog, and sharp-tongued Cleo, the medium-size lavender dog -- and sends them on an adventure involving some trained carnival animals and a pet talent contest. This has the advantages of minimizing screen time for the bland Emily Elizabeth (Clifford's owner), of letting the writers have one flash of wit in naming the contest-runner's Texas ranch "Shangri-Large," and giving Wayne Brady a chance to have some fun with the voice of a jealous ferret. But it also pulls the dogs away from the backyard frolicking and simple storylines of friendship and so forth that give the TV show its appeal.
Doubtless the filmmakers felt as if they had to open things up, making it bigger and wider and louder for the big screen. And the pressure to do something more is probably what made them include a few mediocre soft-rock tunes and give the animation a more rounded, shadowed look. But the changes don't make the movie any better, and they do make it feel less like the Clifford that toddlers know and love. When you're 3, familiarity breeds content, and it's an odd move to mess with that.
If your kid loves Clifford, you're going to see this movie. We might wish for something a little more ambitious in our children's entertainment, but at least there's nothing more offensive than a burp joke here -- something you can't say for most movies aimed at kids these days, even in the realm of G.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cliffords Really Big Movie
Directed by: Robert C. Ramirez
Written by: Ramirez, Rhett Reese
Voices: John Ritter, Wayne Brady, Grey DeLisle, Jenna Elfman, John Goodman
At: Fenway, Cleveland Circle, suburbs
Running time: 73 minutes
Rated: G (nothing offensive)