Clifford, the Big Red Dog: Colour me impressed

Latest instalment of classic series will charm younger viewers – and a few adults too

Clifford the Big, Red Dog
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Director: Walt Becker
Cert: PG
Genre: Family
Starring: Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong, John Cleese, Kenan Thompson
Runing Time: 1 hr 36 mins

When the late author and cartoonist Norman Bridwell first sketched out a little girl and an implausibly scarlet-coloured, horse-sized canine, he had the idea to call the dog Tiny. Happily, his wife Norma persuaded him to name the animal after her imaginary childhood chum instead. More than a dozen rejections from literary imprints later, Clifford the Big Red Dog was first published in 1963. In the decades since, the adventures of the outsized puppy have inspired three TV series, a musical, video games and the 2004 animated feature Clifford’s Really Big Movie.

This latest incarnation clings to the canonical construct that Clifford’s unnatural girth is brought about by the equally large love of his owner, Emily Elizabeth, albeit with a little help from a twinkling John Cleese.

The former Python is charming as Mr Bridwell, curator of a travelling animal rescue tent, an operation that –in common with the mysterious circus in 7 Faces of Dr Lao – has a knack for disappearing.

Jack Whitehall, assuming an American accent, is equally welcome as Casey, a currently homeless, irresponsible uncle to the winsome Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp). When Casey’s bizarrely British-accented sister calls him in for urgent babysitting duties, he flops on the couch, squirts whipped cream directly into his mouth and fails to prevent his niece from adopting an adorable, tiny puppy – a creature that, overnight, transforms into an elephantine chewer of bedroom slippers.

The script is decently funny but as overcooked as a screenplay with six writing credits can be. A subplot concerning an evil biotech genius (Tony Hale) swiftly transforms the film into a manic chase movie when it might have profited from a few more incongruously sized sight gags. Another subplot concerning Emily Elizabeth struggling to fit in at prep school and guff about “being different” or “being yourself” should have been left entirely on the cutting room floor. Just let the little girl rescue her dog. That’s enough story. Thanks.

Walt Becker, director of the only Alvin and the Chipmunks film to feature legendary director John Waters, bejewels the film with shiny, happy cameos as the puppy bounds through the streets of Harlem. SNL’s Kenan Thompson! Oscar nominee Rosie Perez! Broadway veteran Tovah Feldshuh!

It’s loud, it’s silly, it’s over-saturated; the smaller viewers at the family screening I attended were wildly impressed. Adults may be somewhat impressed that the word “bollocks” makes the final cut.