Clifford the Big Red Dog: Reaching New Heights


By Kyla Leathers, Staff Writer

Clifford the Big Red Dog has wiggled his way back into the lives of American children and families.

For a year, there were exciting commercials and ads for a revamped version of Clifford, an old cartoon, turned into a movie. Despite only airing on television for three seasons after the pilot in 2000, Clifford the Big Red Dog was loved dearly by the children of America. Leading up to the movie release, Clifford the Big Red Dog also made a comeback on December 6th through Amazon Prime last year in 2019, 16 years after being cancelled in 2003 due to the death of actor John Ritter, who was the voice behind Clifford the dog. Adam Sanders took on the voice of Clifford in the comeback show, with Hannah Levinson as the voice of Emily Elizabeth Howard.

In the original Clifford the Big Red Dog cartoon, Emily lived with her father, Mr. Howard, along with her mother. The story of Clifford going from big to small was up to interpretation as the growth was documented in a few seconds in the title sequence theme song. However, the cause of his growth was not revealed. In the pilot, Clifford was already big, and that is why Clifford, Emily, and her family had to move to an island called Birdwell, where they lived throughout the series.

On November 10, the movie, titled Clifford the Big Red Dog, was released in theatres and on Paramount Plus streaming service. Emily lives with her working single mother, this time in New York City. In the 96-minute movie, Clifford the Big Red Dog captures the story of how Emily Elizabeth came to be Clifford’s owner through a series of challenges they face together. Rated PG, the movie is enjoyable for kids and adults alike. It is humorous and invigorating, with special effects that create a magical experience for viewers. The movie stars Darby Camp as Emily Elizabeth, along with Jack Whitehall, who plays Uncle Casey, the unreliable babysitter in charge of taking care of Emily during her mother Maggie’s business trip that takes place over the course of the movie.

Clifford has a new look in the movie. He starts off small, and ends up growing after a night of being loved. This is the first time we are given a detailed story of how Clifford came to be so big. He is more realistic-looking due to being a computer animation rather than the cartoon character he used to be portrayed as. He looks very much like a labrador, but he is the same bright red color America fell in love with, which is unfortunately unavailable in the real world. The redness, along with the 30 foot height, of Clifford is magical, and it allows viewers to escape into a world of authentic fantasy. Clifford was brought to life with the use of a bulky, red exoskeleton controlled by two puppeteers. The puppeteers, Rowan Magee and Jon Riddleberger, wore matching red shoes and long red shorts to blend in with the dog’s large body, while maneuvering it around New York City. Trailers were used to simulate the movement of Clifford across the city by pulling the life-size model along. For the scenes of Emily riding Clifford, Darby Camp had to ride on a model of Clifford’s back, which was attached to a moving mechanical device, similar to the motions of a quarter-operated children’s ride. She often rode on top of the red body pulled by the trailer as well.

Voiced by David Alan Grier, Clifford has the same lovable personality as he always has, but he no longer speaks with his animal friends. A major difference between the live action movie and the children’s TV show is Clifford’s ability to talk. In the new film, Clifford can’t understand other dogs and communicates (nonverbally) solely with Emily. Their bond, rather than that of Clifford and other dogs, is the primary focus of the film, and replaces the initial relationships centralized in the original TV episodes. In a way, there was a barrier between Elizabeth and Clifford due to his ability to verbalize with other animals (which the viewers hear), and his inability to verbalize with Emily. Although Emily has always had an incredible love for her oversized pet, her relationship with Clifford is deepened in her new role.

Like Clifford, witty sixth grader Emily Elizabeth has a slightly new look as well. She sports a light brown braid throughout the movie, rather than her yellow haircut with bangs we saw in the early 2000’s television show, and then again in 2019. Similar to Emily’s character in the 2019 reboot, Emily ditched the pink sweater, black skirt, and striped socks. She sports more modern attire during her free time, in sweatshirts, casual tops, and leggings or jeans, when she isn’t in her blue and white school uniform. Her clothing style in the film is similar to the Prime TV show, where Emily wears a yellow T-shirt and black leggings with blue sneakers. Live action Emily Elizabeth loves to wear Converse. Emily is played by Darby Camp, who is best known for her role as Kate Pierce in the Christmas Chronicles movies. Camp also played Chloe on HBO’s Big Little Lies, and Frakie on the movie Benji. 

Uncle Casey is a character we had not seen in the original Clifford series, and yet, he serves a very important role in the movie. Uncle Casey is the second main protagonist of the film. He is known for being clumsy and irresponsible in the past, but is a very loving member of the family. The new addition to the original TV cast was an interesting spin on Clifford. His actor, Jack Whitehall was a childhood actor who spent the beginning of adulthood as a stand-up comedian. He starred in the movies The Nutcracker of Four Realms as Harlequin, and Jungle Cruise as McGregor Houghton. He also has appeared in numerous comedy specials such as the Netflix Original, Jack Whitehall: Christmas with my Father. 

Clifford is still playing in theatres without a set end date. It can be streamed anywhere through Paramount Plus. Clifford fans look forward to a sequel being produced by Paramount which is currently in the making. People have enjoyed the film so far, with a 94% Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score. Clifford the Big Red Dog has racked up $43.7 million as of December 2nd 2021, with a $64 million budget. In the 2000’s title sequence before every episode, audiences would listen to the chant “I love Clifford, the Big Red Dog!!” and resignate with it. Although the characters, and our world, have changed, a great deal of people feel the same way they did about Clifford 20 years ago.