Clifford the Big Red Dog

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/1/22;
Paramount;
Family;
Box Office $48.59 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for impolite humor, thematic elements and mild action.
Stars Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong, Izaac Wang, Kenan Thompson, Tovah Feldshuh, Paul Rodriguez, Russell Peters, Horatio Sanz, Rosie Perez, Alex Moffat, Jessica Keenan Wynn, John Cleese.

Based on the long-running children’s book series of the same name, the Clifford the Big Red Dog movie is a prime example of stretching the source material to fit the feature-length format.

In this case, it’s the adventures of a giant dog and the little girl who owns him.

The plot is a bit like the live-action Dumbo, with a framing device involving John Cleese as a narrator talking about love and magic, which is very reminiscent of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted.

Clifford is a bright red puppy who is left on the streets when the rest of his doggy family is taken to the pound. He gets scooped up by Mr. Bridwell (Cleese, whose character is named for Clifford’s creator, Norman Bridwell) and taken to his traveling exhibit of rescued animals.

Meanwhile, sixth-grader Emily (Darby Camp) is left in the care of her irresponsible uncle (Jack Whitehall, getting some serious exposure between this and Jungle Cruise) when her mother (Sienna Guillory) is called away on business. On the way to school, Emily sees Bridwell’s tent and is enamored with Clifford, who somehow ends up in her backpack.

Since her apartment doesn’t allow pets, she has to take him back the next day, but overnight he grows up to be 10 feet tall, but still as playful as a puppy. And Bridwell, being a mysterious Mary Poppins magical type character, has disappeared.

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While Emily and her pals try to find Bridwell to see if Clifford can be returned to normal, his playful demeanor in public makes the news, attracting the attention of the owner of a biotech firm trying to genetically engineer larger animals for food. So he wants to capture Clifford and study him to see why he’s so big. And the chase is on.

The movie has some fun dealing with some of the obvious issues that would arise with a gigantic dog (like how to give him a medical exam) while sidestepping others (like how much he would  have to eat to stay healthy at that size).

Like the dog at the center of it all, Clifford ends up being some harmless fluff that should keep young viewers entertained.

The Blu-ray of Clifford the Big Red Dog includes four behind-the-scenes featurettes and three deleted scenes.

The deleted scenes run nearly three minutes total and don’t amount to much more than a few additional moments of humor.

The six-and-a-half-minute “Part of the Pack” is a general making-of featurette, featuring interviews from the cast and filmmakers. The three-and-a-half-minute “Acting Is for the Dogs” focuses on the visual effects used to bring Clifford to life, particularly the puppeteers who provided a live reference model on set.

The seven-minute “The Magic of Bridwell” featurette focuses more on the original “Clifford” children books and how they were conceived of by creator Norman Bridwell, who appears via archive interviews (sadly, he died in 2014).

Finally, there’s the two-and-a-half-minute “Tips & Tricks for Taking Care of a 10-Foot Dog” is a tongue-in-cheek piece that is pretty much exactly what the title makes it sound like.

Originally published as a digital review Dec. 20, 2021.

Jungle Cruise

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/16/21;
Disney;
Adventure;
Box Office $116.97 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of adventure violence.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Edgar Ramírez, Veronica Falcón.

In the spirit of a classic ride known for its jokes, here’s another one: Have you heard Disney’s remaking the Pirates of the Caribbean movie? It’s called Jungle Cruise.

Based on one of the original rides at Disneyland, Jungle Cruise owes a lot to its theme park companion, and not just the idea of turning a Disney parks boat ride into a big-budget adventure movie. As with 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Jungle Cruise features a legendary treasure of sorts, and a cadre of immortal warriors cursed by it.

In this case, the primary plot device is a mythical tree in the middle of the Amazon jungle whose pedals can cure any disease. An expedition of conquistadors disappeared searching for the tree hundreds of years earlier, but were claimed by the jungle. The story picks up in 1916, with explorers Lily Houghton and her brother, MacGregor, setting off to Brazil in search of the tree. To travel down the Amazon river, they charter a boat from Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a cruise skipper desperate for money to pay off local kingpin Nilo (Paul Giamatti).

Also after the treasure is a German prince named Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who is based on the actual son of Kaiser Wilhelm II. To spice things up he brings a submarine to sail down the river.

The slapstick action sequences also bring to mind films such as The Mummy (the campy 1999 version, not the awful 2017 remake). According to the bonus materials, the filmmakers themselves drew inspiration from The African Queen, Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it shows (1951’s African Queen being a primary inspiration for the original ride as well).

Though derivative, Jungle Cruise manages to deliver a fun adventure that takes advantage of its charismatic leads. It also pays a lot of homage to the original ride that fans should appreciate, particularly in regards to the famous puns that ride skippers are known for reciting.

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The primary bonus feature on the Blu-ray (also available with digital versions and on Disney+) is the film’s “Expedition Mode,” which is basically a pop-up trivia track that plays with the film. Aside from a few facts about the production, the original ride and some of the jungle animals encountered on the voyage, it’s a rather lackluster offering in terms of taking a deep dive into the material. Why not delve more into the biography into the character of Prince Joachim, a real person whose history the filmmakers have coopted in order to make him the mustache-twirling villain of the piece? Instead, the pop-up text just offers more bad Jungle Cruise-style puns.

The other extras are more-standard fare, highlighted by nearly 17 minutes of deleted scenes that fill in more aspects to the world of the film.

The general making of the film is covered in a 13-minute featurette, further supplemented by a five-minute video about the performances of Johnson and Blunt, and a 15-minute “Creating the Amazon” delves into the visual effects, production design and crafting the impressive set of the Brazilian port town.

Then there’s a 14-minute “Once a Skip, Always a Skip,” which profiles the ride and features actual ride skippers discussing their experiences with the attraction.

Rounding out the extras is a two-and-a-half-minute gag reel.

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