Clifford the Big Red Dog is a 2021 family movie and comedy based on a colorful legacy, including the children's book series of the same name, as well as the 2000 TV series, the 2019 reboot TV series, and the prequel series, Clifford's Puppy Days. A combination of all four series within the Clifford the Big Red Dog franchise, this movie takes viewers into the life of Emily Elizabeth Howard, who is now in middle school and struggling to fit in with her peers, many of whom constantly bully her.
Throughout the movie, viewers will find endearing storytelling devices that connect with the overall themes of the Clifford the Big Red Dog franchise, ensuring the tall tales of Clifford will live on for generations.
Emily Elizabeth begins her journey with Clifford when she visits the animal rescue center in New York City and sees a small red puppy for the first time, a clever reference for fans of the prequel series Clifford's Puppy Days. Viewers get a good glimpse of what small Clifford looked like when he was a tiny puppy in this live-action film. The apartment building where Emily Elizabeth resides is also a reference to Clifford's Puppy Days, offering a flashback to the tender moments when she raised Clifford. Clifford's ability to grow in size depends on how much love he receives from his owner, a magical element the viewers will notice as a reference that masterfully and effortlessly combines Clifford's Puppy Days and the Clifford the Big Red Dog TV series.
The scene where Emily stows away her small red puppy in her school backpack is a reference to an episode following Emily's class trip on Clifford's Puppy Days, a detail Emily Elizabeth and her friends didn't notice until it was too late. Additionally, Owen Yu, Emily's only friend before meeting Clifford, is a reference to Shun, a boy with Japanese heritage and Emily's good buddy in Clifford's Puppy Days. Here, Owen Yu is the kind boy who lives in the next-door apartment and is the only kid in her class who doesn't bully her.
Clifford the Big Red Dog presents young viewers with a message centered on what true friendship is. In one key scene, Emily sheds tears that fall onto Clifford in his puppy form, representing her love and bond with Clifford, thus making her Clifford's true guardian (rather than owner) and true friend. Emily strongly dislikes being separated from Clifford because without him, Emily has no true friends. When her mother, Maggie, is away on a business trip in Chicago, while her Uncle Casey is irresponsible and pays little attention to her. Emily Elizabeth often suffers from loneliness because she is singled out at school and finds little companionship. Unlike most of interactions, her friendship with Clifford is a two-way street, as both Clifford and Emily need each other for comfort and support.
When Emily gives a speech to an entire crowd about putting aside differences and loving somebody for who they are, this shows how much she cares about Clifford, helping him become accepted by the people of New York City. In doing so, she proudly declares that being unique is a gift, as it helps you fully represent yourself and show off that your identity is separate from someone else's, even if anyone happens to have a physical appearance similar to yours.
Emily's ability to stand up for herself and for Clifford represents her character growth and transformation throughout the film. She learns that true friendship works in both ways; friends treat each other as equals and help each other grow and thrive. Emily also learns to be proud of herself and accept herself for who she is: a pet guardian and animal lover.
There are other fun and notable references in the movie. For one, if viewers can look closely, Mr. Birdwell is named after the creator of the Clifford character, Norman Birdwell. Norman Birdwell was an American author and the cartoonist of the Clifford the Big Red Dog book series. He first developed the Clifford the Big Red Dog franchise from a story about a young girl and her horse-sized pet dog, adapting it into an illustrated book for a wide audience. That story helped him create more children's books centering around Clifford and his adventures as well as three animated television series.
Kenan Thompson also makes an appearance in the movie as Clifford's veterinarian. Kenan Thompson is a successful African-American actor who began his career in the popular 1997 movie, Good Burger. His appearance in this live-action film serves as a positive representation of African American actors in the film industry, as Kenan is also a well-known comedian who appears in his own TV show Kenan, which premiered on the NBC network. His appearance in this film shines the spotlight on a well-loved figure and place him in a caring role that children admire.
A fun Easter egg is in store for viewers who look closely at the movie's title, as the font and color of the words match the covers of the children's books and the animated TV series within the franchise. As we follow Emily Elizabeth, we can see how her appearance differs from her animated form in the animated TV series and the book series. This change in appearance symbolizes Emily's transition from elementary school age to middle school age, bringing attention to her coming of age journey. All in all, Clifford the Big Red Dog serves up nostalgia for an older audience and a fresh tale that praises acceptance for a whole new generation of fans.