With the recent death of actor John Ritter, there has been a great deal of attention placed on the future of his TV show "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter". But, many have ignore, or most likely weren't aware of, Ritter's other on-going TV project, the PBS children's series, Clifford, the Big Red Dog, for which he supplied the voice of the title character. At this moment, I'm unsure of what will become of this show, but we do have DVD releases of the series with which to remember it.
Clifford, the Big Red Dog, based on the books by Norman Bridwell, tells the story of Clifford (voiced by John Ritter), who is...well...a big red dog. But, Clifford is very big, easily standing ten-feet tall. He lives with his owner, Emily Elizabeth Howard (voiced by Gery DeLisle), a girl whom Clifford loves very much. They live on Birdwell Island, where Clifford has plenty of room to roam. When Clifford isn't with Emily Elizabeth, he's playing with his two best friends, a poodle named Cleo (voiced by Cree Summer) and a bulldog named T-Bone (voiced by Kel Mitchell). Together, Clifford has many fun adventures with his friends. The episodes of the series take one of two focuses. They either examine Clifford and his dog buddies having fun, in which the animals talk to one another, or the shows focus on Emily Elizabeth and her friends, and the dogs are simply supporting characters, who can't talk. The show focuses on teaching many lessons, such as sharing and being a good friend and citizen.
The Clifford, the Big Red Dog DVD release in question contains two volumes which were previously released on VHS. Each volume contains four episodes. "Look Out, Clifford" focuses on episodes in which Clifford's enormity creates havoc in the neighborhood. In "Clifford's Charm School", Emily Elizabeth's neighbor Mrs. Bleakman (voiced by Edie McClurg) is having a book-club meeting and her grumpy husband Mr. Bleakman (voiced by Earl Boen) is convinced that Clifford will somehow ruin the event. So, Clifford, with the help of Cleo and another dog named Mac (Cam Clarke), brushes up on his etiquette. Emily Elizabeth and her friends are delighted when a construction crew allows them to put their hands in wet cement in "Best Paw Forward", but things get very messy when Clifford mimics their actions. The entire neighborhood is awakened by "Clifford's Hiccups" and Emily Elizabeth must call the local vet, Dr. Dihn (voiced by Haunani Minn) for help. Dr. Dihn is called upon again when Clifford suffers from "An Itchy Patch". A creative solution must be used to help the huge dog with his itch.
The second series of episodes on the DVD fall under the title, "Big Fun in the Sun", and features shows with outdoor themes. Emily Elizabeth's family, Clifford, and several of their friends go camping in "Camping it Up". But, spoiled rich girl Jetta (voiced by Kath Soucie) would rather watch TV in her tent, that is until she begins to appreciate the many wonders of nature. Everyone shouts "Hooray for Cleo" when she makes the winning shot in a doggie volleyball game. But, Cleo actually cheated and can't decide if she should tell all of her friends the truth. In a plot worthy of Ritter's classic show "Three's Company", Clifford and Cleo misunderstand a conversation and think that T-Bone is moving away. Therefore, they take him all over Birdwell Island, allowing him to do all of his favorite things before the miscommunication is resolved. And finally, a blackout hits the Island in "Lights Out" and Clifford is put to use assisting with automobile traffic.
Clifford, the Big Red Dog is an excellent show and is perfectly suited for a young crowd. The show features good animation and an abundance of bright colors, which will hold the attention of young viewers. As noted above, the show offers valuable character education lessons, while being entertaining and quite clever at the same time. The only complaint that I have about Clifford, the Big Red Dog is that is can be quite repetitive in its theme and storylines. But, the show is aimed at children and they learn through repetition.
Clifford, the Big Red Dog "Look Out, Clifford/Big Fun in the Sun" rolls onto DVD courtesy of Family Home Entertainment and Artisan Home Entertainment. The shows are presented in their original full-frame format. The episodes contained on this DVD look fantastic, as there are no obvious defects and zero grain. The picture is very clear and the colors look great. The only problem is that the digital transfer has revealed some jagged lines in the animation, otherwise, this surpasses digital broadcast quality.
The DVD contains a digital stereo audio track. This track is quite unremarkable, but it does provide clear dialogue, with no distortion, and the occasional stereo effect. The show's incidental music sounds fine here.
As broadcast on PBS, each episode ends with either "Clifford's Big Ideas", where Clifford reinforces one of the lessons from the show, or "Real Life Doggie Friends", which highlights the actions of a real dog. As bonus features on this DVD, we get three segments of "Clifford's Big Ideas" and six samples of "Real Life Doggie Friends". Also, there is a set-top game entitled "Who's Who?", which asks questions based on the episodes contained on this DVD.
PBS has already introduced a spin-off from Clifford, the Big Red Dog, entitled, "Clifford's Puppy Days". But, I hope that the original show will continue, with or without John Ritter. His presence will certainly be missed, but Clifford is a classic character and many more children deserve to be exposed to it.