ST. LOUIS — Pushing play on a movie called "Clifford The Big Red Dog" doesn't exactly inspire the kind of cinema flair that accompanies most fall releases, which are mostly tailored to awards-caliber filmmaking. But it's the black sheep-type charm of Walt Becker's film-along with some game cast members-that made this pre-Thanksgiving release a surprising delight.
The tale is as simple as a hot chocolate recipe, centering around a young girl named Emmy (Darby Camp) having trouble fitting into her school and hurried life (she has a good mom, but one that works a lot) who finds new found joy in a young oddly red-colored dog one afternoon in New York. Met by the esteemed animal lover Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese, named after the creator of the book series, Norman Bridwell), Emmy quickly finds out that her new furry friend has magical powers that can't be explained.
So a day in the city with her wayward uncle (Jack Whitehall, aka comic relief) chasing the ever-growing Clifford around New York commences, with certain antagonistic forces (Tony Hale's genetics company owner) and an unfriendly apartment super (David Alan Grier) getting in the way. More so, a little bonding takes place between the niece and her immature yet endearing uncle.
Here's the thing. The cast sells the tail off this thing, making normally unfunny setups and comedic hijinks come off fresher than one would have expected. Camp doesn't fall asleep on the cute button, instead holding her own with the decorated cast. While he isn't in the film for a large amount of screen time, Cleese does make an impact in his interactions with Camp. After all, a little Cleese goes a long way.
Whitehall doesn't have to try hard to create witty remarks and outrageous reactions as Uncle Casey. As he showed in the underwhelming "Jungle Cruise," he can scratch out a few laughs just about anywhere--even when getting flattened by a dog the size of a small house.
Grier can be funny without even trying, and makes good use of his early scenes. But the real star of the show here is the dog, which doesn't look as fake and animated as the film carries on. More so, it's the still-potent message that love still travels further than hate, something that powers the script and all the action here. In speaking with the cast, it was Hale who pointed out to me that these are the kind of movies that shouldn't be forgotten any time of the year.
Did I expect to like "Clifford The Big Red Dog?" No, but after a few hard-hitting and rather depressing dramas, a nice and light adventure film that I can watch with my ten-year-old son and wife isn't a bad way to spend an evening at the theater or at home. Any true dog lover should find themselves smitten with this one-track-mind movie.