Clifford the Big Red Dog (2021) (Digital)

When I was in grade school one of the first books I ever remember reading was “Clifford.” Being a dog lover, the idea of owning a humongous red dog seemed like a lot of fun, and I couldn’t get enough of the books. “Clifford the Big Red Dog” began life as a children’s book series, with author Norman Bridwell bringing to kids the iconic giant red dog who’s managed to endure as a literary figure for years. The long awaited live action movie thankfully doesn’t let down the fan base both new and old.

Emily Elizabeth has just moved to New York City with her mother, Maggie, trying to fit in and deal with an overworked parent. When Maggie has to leave town on business, she asks her brother, Casey, to step up and be a guardian for Emily, despite his complete lack of responsibility. Emily discovers an animal rescue tent owned by Bridwell (John Cleese), a mystery man who introduces the 6th grader to Clifford, a small, red puppy in need of a home. Clifford doesn’t stay tiny for long, though, quickly growing into the size of a large horse, leaving Emily and Casey to hide the dog from all of New York, as well as an evil corporate CEO who wants to use Clifford for experiments.

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is thankfully a very sweet and entertaining movie that doesn’t lean too heavily on the cloying material. Much like the brutally underrated “Curious George” movie, director Walt Becker allows the audience fall in love with the titular hero without forcing him down our throats. Using some great animation and motion capture, Clifford is instantly lovable with a back story that doesn’t require too much explanation. There’s no real discussion about why he’s red, or what it means to the character as a whole. And it doesn’t matter in the long run. Being red is only one of the many things that make him so interesting and fantastic.

Darby Camp and Jack Whitehall do a marvelous job playing off of the big red dog, offering up genuine moments of pure emotion and chemistry. Their mismatched sense of responsibility and obligation make them a lot of fun to watch together. Thankfully the writers don’t get too gross with the dog gags, but have fun with Clifford as he chases a giant rubber ball around the park, nearly consumes a small pug he makes friends with, and saves a local neighbor from nearly falling to his death. This makes him an instant folk hero, allowing for the bad guy (Tony Hale) to enter. If anything the villain is painfully tacked on, almost as if the writers just didn’t have enough confidence in the characters to carry the movie.

I wish the movie had been played more like “Marley and Me” with just Emily navigating her life with the extraordinary circumstances and struggling to get New York to accept him. That said, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it’s funny, sweet, entertaining, and features a bang up supporting cast including John Cleese, Paul Rodriguez, Rosie Perez, and Kenan Thompson, respectively. It’s surprisingly respectful to the original books, while carving out a new fan base, and I hope he can win over a new generation like he did for me in Kindergarten.

Now in Theaters and Streaming on Paramount Plus.