‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ is Worth a Watch If You Feel Like Being Silly

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Clifford the Big Red Dog (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall, Izaac Wang, John Cleese, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Alex Moffat, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Russell Wong, Paul Rodriguez, Russell Peters, Mia Ronn, Kenan Thompson, Rosie Perez

Director: Walter Becker

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for The Nuttiness Caused by a Giant Puppy

Release Date: November 10, 2021 (Theaters and Paramount+)

What would YOU do if a 20-foot-plus red-furred dog started running around all over everywhere? I imagine most people would react with a mixture of shock and confusion, but in this particular pup’s cinematic adventure directed by Walt Becker (Wild Hogs, Old Dogs), there’s a wider range of reactions. Clifford is cause not only for sublime awe, but also for worries about being a good caretaker, or the impetus to justify eviction, or for a standard-issue evil mega-corporation to swoop in and claim that they own everything. And of course, he becomes a bit of a local neighborhood hero. People act very wacky in Clifford the Big Red Dog, in ways that are fairly typical of a family flick, but not always in ways that necessarily go hand-in-hand with the presence of a gigantic canine, and I appreciate that.

The plot essentials that you might want to know are that sixth-grader Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) finds herself with an incorrigible dog after an encounter in Central Park with the mysterious and magical Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese) and his animal emporium. Her Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) isn’t so keen on her keeping Clifford, mostly because he wants to prove to his sister, Emily’s mom Maggie (Sienna Guillory), that he can be responsible. Meanwhile, Mr. Packard the super (David Alan Grier) doesn’t like dogs, and Tony Hale swoops in as a plainly devious CEO to capture Clifford and discover the secrets of his genetic code.

Obviously, something as kid-friendly as this movie is going to end with every character (except the most villainous or toady-ish) rallying around to save the day. So the most important question is: just how goofy do things get? And the answer is … pretty dang goofy. For a generally tame PG movie, there were several moments that had me delighting in their brazenness. A choice example happens when a veterinarian played by Kenan Thompson tries to gently inform us that Clifford’s temperature is supposed to be taken in the normal animal-temperature-taking location (“rhymes with nuthole”). And Clifford himself is as expressive as any real dog, so that plays well whenever there needs to be a definitive reaction shot.

So now the final question: do I want a big red dog of my own? My current living situation isn’t exactly the most dog-friendly, but let’s suppose I have a theoretically more welcoming setup. So with that in mind, I’d have to say: while a mutt like Clifford is great in a pinch whenever you need to run across a bridge, this movie isn’t shy about reminding us of the anatomical and practical matters that need can’t be avoided. Believing in magic can only take us so far, but we can always lighten the mood by saying silly things along the way.

Clifford the Big Red Dog is Recommended If You Like: Goofy uncles, Kid-friendly scatological humor, Standard kids movie tropes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Whimpers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,’ I Can (Mostly) Resist You

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Dominic Cooper, Andy García, Cher, Meryl Streep

Director: Ol Parker

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Spicy Dialogue

Release Date: July 20, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again wants us to care about how a young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) met the three possible fathers of her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Or really, it just wants us to accept that as the framework around which some beautiful people frolic around a sunny Greek isle while singing the songs of ABBA … again! Audiences who already dig this sort of thing appear generally willing to accept whatever thin framework there is. (The setup in the present day, in which Sophie re-opening her late mom’s hotel is threatened by rain, is even thinner.) So it feels petty of me to call out Here We Go Again for its vaguely drawn backstories. But I wouldn’t call attention to them if the script didn’t also keep doing the same thing. Donna and her suitors keep on talking about the lives they are running away from, and if that motivation is so important, I just want to know the specifics. Or really, I think these characters want to tell us the specifics.

For certain audiences, those shortcomings won’t matter one lick, but for me, Here We Go Again never overcomes the inherent weirdness of a musical. But there is some fun to be had along the way that threatens to sweep up everyone in its path. Certainly, Christine Baranski’s tasty bons mot (“be still my beating vagina”) cannot be beat. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman really lets the colors pop, especially the oranges. And the final number, featuring the entire main cast, including Meryl Streep as a beyond-the-grave Donna and Cher as basically herself, really does manage to be irresistible. I don’t want to be a fuddy-duddy, so I will admit I enjoyed myself, but I must say it all feels rather fluffy and empty.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is Recommended If You Like: Singing and Dancing Along Without Asking Any Questions

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Waterloos