Clifford the big red dog gets bigger than ever in “Clifford’s Really Big Movie,” a take-no-chances transfer of the money-printing franchise from page and tube to the bigscreen. Harmless tale of the giant pooch helping out some itinerant performing animals while longing for home will go down smoothly with the preschool faithful, but anyone over 5 will feel antsy even given the brief running time, indicating modest theatrical returns before ancillary cash-in. As a point of comparison, “Barney’s Great Adventure,” with its similar demographic, grossed $12.2 million domestically in 1998.
Living blissfully on Birdwell Island in the care of young girl Emily Elizabeth, Clifford, who towers over houses but takes care not to stomp on anyone or anything, comes under the mistaken impression that he’s no longer welcome at home because the family can’t afford to feed him.
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Dejected, he hooks up with a traveling circus that includes a motley crew of critters whose act will be disbanded unless they shape up fast and win a national talent contest. Motivated by the fact that the grand prize includes a lifetime supply of his favorite food, Tummy Yummies, the always genial giant pooch willingly becomes the star attraction, insuring a happy ending for all concerned, save for some sneaky contest operators who hope to pull a fast one on the winners.
Deliberate absence of real conflict, dramatic excitement and humor makes this sort of fare passe for any kid who’s begun getting into superheroes or even the spunky charm of “Sponge Bob.” But while character animation is not complex, design elements are colorfully agreeable, and voicings by the likes of the late John Ritter, in the title role, Wayne Brady, Jenna Elfman and John Goodman are lively.