Review: ‘Clifford’ a safe but average adaption of beloved kid’s book

Jack Whitehall and Darby Camp in Clifford the Big Red Dog / Paramount Pictures

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is exactly what you think it is, a children’s movie.

What’s different about it is that the movie knows exactly what it is, and it doesn’t try to pander to an adult audience, and because of that, it is somewhat refreshing.

That said, the movie is only average, and your enjoyment will be helped if you fondly remember the children’s book series by cartoonist Norman Bridwell from the 1960s or the PBS cartoon series from the early 2000s.

Directed by Walt Becker from a screenplay by Jay Scherick, David Ronn, and Blaise Hemingway, the movie is the story of how a bullied New York City middle-schooler Emily (Darby Camp) becomes the owner of a crimson dog that grows to gigantic proportions because of the volume of her love.

Emily’s love for the pup is big, and after she tearfully prays for the safety of the the tiny lab that was given to her by the magical Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese), who runs an animal-rescue tent at a traveling carnival, the dog grows to elephantine size overnight, creating all sorts of problems and misadventures for Emily and her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall), who is taking care of the girl while her mother is off in Chicago on a business trip.

Once the public becomes aware of the Clifford’s prodigious proportions, Zack Tieran (Tony Hale), a genetics company owner, seeks to steal Clifford from Emily to use the pup for his own purposes.

?Clifford is, of course, a creation of computer generated imagery, and the animated work is excellent as the dog interacts nearly seamlessly with the actors in the film.

The movie features a series of cameos from a gaggle of “Saturday Night Live” veterans as well as other comedians, who help enliven the movie, particularly Kennan Thompson, who plays a befuddled veterinarian tasked with examining the affable but enormous dog.

The film isn’t of the quality of the recent “Paddington” movie and its sequel, but it does have a charm that’s undeniable for little ones. The movie isn’t intended to entertain anyone over the age of 10, but for a family searching of a first movie for their child to see in theaters, they could do a lot worse.

(PG) 1 hr. 36 min.
Grade: C

  New in Local Theaters

Clifford the Big Red Dog (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 36 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – High Society

Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby in High Society / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“High Society” is a 1956 musical remake of “The Philadelphia Story” from 1940. The plot is basically the same for both films, but “High Society” features three of the top male musical performers of the 20th century in Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong playing himself.

The movie also stars the lovely Grace Kelly as Tracy Lord, the object of Dexter Haven’s (Crosby), Mike Connor’s (Sinatra) and George Kittredge’s (John Lund) affection.

Socialite Tracy is Dexter’s ex-wife. She is engaged to marry snobbish George, but she has a brief encounter with Mike, who is a reporter assigned to write an expose on Tracy’s father Seth, that confuses her about her feelings for George.

Mike uses covering the hoity-toity wedding ceremony of Tracy and George with his photographer partner Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), who not-so-secretly has a crush on Mike, as a ruse to get close to the family.

Dexter, a singer and composer who is also an heir to a fortune, is still in love with Tracy who lives next door, but he is trying to take his mind off her by organizing a community jazz festival. Seeking to regain her love, Dexter gives Tracy a scale model of the former couple’s sailboat “True Love,” as a wedding present. The gift provokes Tracy’s happy memories of their honeymoon aboard the actual ship and makes her further question her relationship with George.

A series of somewhat innocent but misleading mishaps between Tracy, Dexter and Mike, leads George to question Tracy’s character, and Tracy to question just who she really is in love with.

On the whole, I probably prefer the 1940 original which stared Katherine Hepburn as Tracy, Cary Grant as Dexter, and Jimmy Stewart as Mike in an Academy Award-winning role for Best Supporting Actor, probably because that’s where I first encountered the story.

However, the musical aspect of “High Society” makes it more than worth watching from the opening scene, featuring a fantastic musical number by Armstrong and his orchestra of the title song to the charmingly cynical duet between Crosby and Sinatra of “Well, Did You Evah!,” in the two crooners’ first collaboration.

In all the movie features 10 fabulous tunes crafted by the great Cole Porter. Not only that, but the songs were orchestrated by noted conductors Conrad Salinger and Nelson Riddle.

Also, as great an actress as Hepburn is, Kelly was never more beautiful on film than “High Society” with its lush Technicolor photography. It’s evident why three men are knocking each other over to win her hand.

The movie was Kelly’s final role before becoming the Princess of Monaco, marrying Prince Rainer just after filming was completed. She wore her Cartier engagement ring in the movie. The film was released three months after her marriage.

“High Society” is currently streaming on HBO Max, but for a real treat, the film is being screened at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at the Malco Razorback Cinema in conjunction with Fathom Events.