Many "old sayings" can come across as trite, corny, or even confusing (A stitch in time does what now?). However, one that I truly believe is "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately, when TV shows are made into feature films, this advice is rarely followed. Often the stories are made too complicated and unnecessary new characters are brought in. Thus we have the blueprint for Clifford's Really Big Movie which is based on the classic children's books by Normal Bridwell and the television series which airs on PBS.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Clifford (voiced by John Ritter), he is a big, red dog...I mean a very big red dog...who lives with a young girl named Emily Elizabeth (voiced by Grey DeLisle). When Clifford isn't playing with Emily Elizabeth, he enjoys spending time with his two best friends, a poodle named Cleo (voiced by Cree Summer) and a lovable bulldog named T-Bone (voiced by Kel Mitchell). As Clifford's Really Big Movie, Clifford and his friends are attending a fair which has visited Birdwell Island. There, they see a performance by Larry's Amazing Animals, featuring Dorothy the Cow (voiced by Jenna Elfman), Dirk the Dog (voiced by Jess Harnell), Rodrigo the Chihuahua (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama), and Shackelford the Ferret (voiced by Wayne Brady), a troupe which doesn't put on a very good show. Larry Gablegobble (voiced by Judge Reinhold) informs his animals that they are in danger of being kicked out of the fair, but he plans to win the "Tummy Yummies" best pet contest and therefore secure their financial future. When Shackelford sees Clifford, he invites him to join the troupe, but Clifford declines.
But, the next morning, Clifford overhears his neighbor Mr. Bleakman (voiced by Earl Boen) telling Emily Elizabeth that Clifford eats too much and that it must be very expensive to keep him fed. Because of this, Clifford assumes that he's a burden on Emily Elizabeth and thus decides to accept Shackelford's offer and join Larry's Amazing Animals, thinking that winning a supply of "Tummy Yummies" would help Emily Elizabeth. He convinces T-Bone and Cleo to join him and they travel to find Larry's show. Once there, Larry accepts them into the fold, but Shackelford soon becomes jealous of Clifford's popularity. Meanwhile, Emily Elizabeth is desperately looking for her missing dog.
Should it take me that long to write the synopsis for a children's movie? This is the perfect example of what is wrong with Clifford's Really Big Movie. The "Clifford" books and TV shows are populated by simple, yet compelling stories and only a few minor characters. Clifford's Really Big Movie goes overboard by introducing numerous new characters and an incredibly convoluted story. The "Clifford" TV series was built upon the idea that Clifford has adventures on Birdwell Island with his friends and Emily Elizabeth (Some of the episodes focus exclusively on Emily Elizabeth, with Clifford remaining in the background.) and the shows teach simple, yet important lessons about getting along with others. The makers of Clifford's Really Big Movie apparently felt that the movie had to offer a more expansive story thus robbed the film of the simple innocence which makes the show such a joy. And given the trouble that the writers went through to send Clifford on his adventure, the story certainly does end suddenly and even little ones will question how quickly and neatly things were wrapped up.
The movie also features some aesthetic differences, as the animation has been changed from the TV series. All of the characters look different, as they've been given a fuller look, and anyone who has kids knows that children will immediately pick up on this change. The voices from the series remain intact, most importantly the late John Ritter as Clifford. Ritter was able to bring a great deal of warmth to Clifford's voice which helped to develop what is essentially a very one-dimensional character. The movie is able to provide a nice array of recognizable celebrity voices for the new characters, but this doesn't change the fact that these characters are unwelcome. Given the history of "Clifford", Clifford's Really Big Movie could have been a classic, but it's simply another missed opportunity as once again, bigger doesn't mean better.
Clifford's Really Big Movie stomps onto DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film is offered on this DVD in both a full-frame and widescreen format. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as the reds, blues, and greens nearly leap from the screen. The animation shows no of the stuttering or missing lines which can often be seen on animated DVDs. There is some noticeable artifacting at times, but this won't bother the little ones.
The Clifford's Really Big Movie DVD carries a rather lethargic Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Like many kid-vids the LFE channel has been dummied-down in this mix. When Clifford runs on-screen, the bass should be shaking the house, but there is merely a muffled thud. The surround sound channels do manage some nice effects from crowd noise or musical cues, but that's about it. The majority of the audio comes from the front and center channels. The dialogue is clear and audible at all times and there is no notable defects on the track.
This DVD carries a few extras. "Inside the Dog House: Behind the Scenes" (7 minutes) is a kid-friendly "making of" featurette which offers interviews with the vocal cast and a nice primer in how animation is done and how the voices are recorded. (Hopefully this won't destroy the illusion for kids that the characters speak for themselves.) There are two Read-Alongs for the stories "The Star of the Show" and "Amazing Animals". There are two versions of a music video for the song "Big Time" (which simply features clips from the movie), as it can be watched with or without Sing-Along on-screen lyrics. The 8-minute "Cleo's Crafts" will teach youngsters how to make a Clifford hat, Cleo's Classy Collars, and a Big, Red Puppet. (Parents: Don't let children watch this until you're certain that you have the necessary materials for making the crafts on-hand.) Finally, we have the trailer for Clifford's Really Big Movie, letterboxed at 1.85:1.
Clifford's Really Big Movie received a very limited theatrical release earlier this year (and came nowhere near my house), and I now know why it wasn't given more of a push. Those familiar with the shows and books will be thrown by this overachieving movie, but children who are die-hard fans of the big, red one will find some pleasure in it.