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Clifford the Big Red Dog

NEW YORK (CNS) — Given that it charts the rapidly deepening bond between a kid and a pooch, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Paramount) would not, presumably, be a film designed to please the great comedian W.C. Fields.

Less curmudgeonly types, by contrast, will find this adaptation of a series of children’s books by Norman Bridwell, the first of which was published in 1963, silly but mostly harmless.

Director Walt Becker mixes computer animation and live action to tell the story of lonely New York City preteen Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp). Having recently moved to the Big Apple, Emily feels isolated and out of place at her new school.

The news that her Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) will be baby-sitting her while her busy mom, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), is away on a business trip does nothing to brighten Emily’s mood. A slacker who lives in a dilapidated truck, Casey is affectionate but irresponsible.

When, however, she and Casey cross paths with eccentric animal rescuer Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese) — named, of course, in honor of the author — and he introduces her to an irresistible little puppy, Emily perks up considerably. It’s love at first sight for the affection-hungry lass.

Significant complications arise the following morning, though, when Emily awakens to discover that her tenderness toward Clifford has magically transformed him, overnight, into a giant. As Clifford innocently wreaks all manner of slapstick havoc, Emily and Casey find themselves contending with a series of adversaries.

These include Mr. Packard (David Alan Grier), the pet-averse superintendent of Emily’s apartment building, and scheming business executive Zack Tieran (Tony Hale). The CEO of a failing biotech firm, Tieran wants to claim that his company’s technology brought about Clifford’s sudden, massive growth spurt.

Uncle and niece do, at least, have a reliable ally in the person of Owen (Izaac Wang), a diminutive schoolmate of Emily’s who harbors a not-very-well-concealed secret crush on her. Various residents of Emily’s Harlem neighborhood also rally round the duo.

Among the themes highlighted in Jay Scherick, David Ronn and Blaise Hemingway’s screenplay are the need to accept those who are different, the dangers of bullying and the value of self-confidence. Yet these messages are not put across very adroitly.

They’re also offset by some potty gags and a bit of vaguely rude dialogue. So the parents of real-life members of Emily’s demographic may want to think twice before greenlighting an encounter with the world’s most famous big red dog.

The film contains a few scatological jokes and a couple of instances each of mild swearing and crass talk. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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CAPSULE REVIEW

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Paramount)

Slapstick humor is the order of the day in this silly but mostly harmless adaptation of a series of children’s books by Norman Bridwell, the first of which was published in 1963. Director Walt Becker mixes computer animation and live action to tell the story of a lonely New York City preteen (Darby Camp) who adopts a little red puppy from an eccentric animal rescuer (John Cleese) only to have her love for the dog magically transform it, overnight, into a giant. With her mom (Sienna Guillory) away on a business trip, the pooch’s metamorphosis presents an outsized problem for her babysitting slacker uncle (Jack Whitehall). Yet, even as they contend with the pet-averse superintendent (David Alan Grier) of the lass’ apartment building and a scheming CEO (Tony Hale) who wants to claim his biotech firm brought about the massive growth spurt, the duo can count on the help of a diminutive schoolmate (Izaac Wang) who has a secret crush on the protagonist. Underlying themes include the need to accept those who are different, the dangers of bullying and the value of self-confidence. But these messages are not put across very adroitly and are offset by some potty gags and a bit of vaguely rude dialogue. A few scatological jokes, a couple of instances each of mild swearing and crass talk. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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CLASSIFICATION

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Paramount) — Catholic News Service classification, A-II — adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association rating, PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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