Clifford the Big Red Dog has been attracting the attention of readers and winning the affection of children and families around the world ever since the very first story featuring the character was published in 1963. Screenwriters Jay Scherick and David Ronn have now adapted it into a live-action film that will teach the world how to love big dog.
Before his death in 2014, Clifford author and cartoonist Norman Bridwell either wrote or originated the concepts
for 60 books (he named Emily Elizabeth after his own daughter). Scholastic has published approximately 500 different versions of Clifford books over the past 58 years. Readers in China, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, India and the United States all share an abiding love for Clifford.
“Clifford represents the child in all of us,” says producer Iole Lucchese, who also serves as Chair of the Board, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer and President, Scholastic Entertainment. “He’s the friend that you hope to find who’s loyal and kind and will always be there for you. Kids like him because he is trying his best to figure out the world and be a good friend and solve problems but also have some fun. He’s very childlike, a little bit extra big and can provide some help if you need it.”
That built-in goodwill was just one of the reasons why Lucchese partnered with veteran Hollywood producer Jordan Kerner—whose numerous credits include such hit family movies as The Mighty Ducks franchise, George of the Jungle, Charlotte’s Web and The Smurfs franchise—to produce an all-new feature film starring the beloved hound.
Understanding the broad, timeless appeal of Bridwell’s creation, Kerner had been interested in making a Clifford movie for the better part of two decades
“It is a property that has been in so many people’s hearts,” Kerner says. “Now, a generation of people who fell in love with these characters, reading them or seeing them as cartoons when they were young, really want to share them with their own children. And children find it on their own because it’s such a wonderful series of books.”
To adapt Bridwell’s stories for the screen, Kerner turned to screenwriters Jay Scherick and David Ronn, with whom he’d worked on both The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2, along with Blaise Hemingway (Playmobil: The Movie).
“The heart of the movie is the relationship between Emily and Clifford—that’s what everyone remembers from the books,” says Ronn. “That’s what you want to dig into in the movie, the sweetness that exists between them and the unconditional love that you get from an animal, particularly this animal that’s so unique. Hopefully, that relationship is what’s going to pop off the screen for people.”
The bond between Emily Elizabeth and Clifford was something that director Walt Becker absolutely wanted to ensure remained front and center throughout the film.
Becker, whose previous credits include Wild Hogs, Old Dogs and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, felt that the close rapport that develops between the little girl and her not-so-little pet had the same sort of magic as the most vaunted family films.
“From the very get-go, I always saw this story as similar to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” Becker says. “You have a lead character going through issues who feels alone in the world, and this young protagonist befriends a magical creature that also feels alone. There are a lot of parallels between that movie and this movie. It shares the Amblin-esque quality that made that film so special.”
And much like Steven Spielberg’s family classic, Clifford the Big Red Dog was written, directed and produced to appeal to audiences of all ages.
“The love that humans have for their pets and vice versa transcends age,” Becker says. “What we really set out to do is make a movie that feels like it was being made for adults that kids would enjoy. It’s a four-quadrant adventure movie, and not necessarily what you might expect from the Clifford property.”
With its infinitely relatable middle-school struggles, authentic New York City setting and diverse cast of memorable characters, the film feels real and relevant to modern audiences yet it also retains all the qualities that have made Norman Bridwell’s Clifford books so universally beloved throughout the decades.
“What we wanted to keep from the books is the sense that Clifford represents unconditional love,” Becker says. “If you read those books, he is a character that just loves Emily and loves others. Even though he can somehow get in the wrong situations, he’s always doing it out of a place of love. We just wanted to update it and make it feel new, so we tried to keep a layer of reality throughout the whole thing that would allow audiences to enjoy a fresh take on a property they grew up with.”
Told with so much humour and warmth, Clifford the Big Red Dog embodies all the qualities that have delighted generations of readers. With its clever comedic hijinks and winning performances, it’s certain to appeal to contemporary moviegoers, too—it’s that rare feel-good film classic truly capable of entertaining the whole family.
“Walt Becker has made an expansive movie out of what started as a black and plus-one red colour book more than 50 years ago,” says producer Iole Lucchese. “It’s amazing for me to think of where we’ve taken the world of Clifford. He has taken us on an emotional adventure that starts with a tear or two over mean girls and family strife and ultimately leads to neighborhoods coming together to do the right thing. It starts small and ends big, kind of like Clifford.”
“I think it’s important to believe in a little magic,” Becker says. “I think magic for us just represented possibility. I think when people feel like things are possible, just as a community, it sort of raises the whole community up. Putting this kind of layer of magic just represents the type of miracles that are possible when people are feeling united and, in a loving way.”
For Camp, the magic of Clifford was also a key takeaway. “I think it’s important to believe in magic because you just see the world in a totally different perspective and every which way…everything is just more positive.”
Concludes Becker: “I hope audiences laugh a lot, I hope they cry some, and I hope they walk out of the theater feeling better than when they went in. I hope they realize two things: the love between humans and their pets is real and amazing and magic, and if we can capture that and spread that around the world, then we’ll be making strides and finding ourselves in a better place.
Raised in rural Northern Vermont, BLAISE HEMINGWAY (Writer) started his professional screenwriting career with the Walt Disney Writers Program where he cut his teeth doing on-set rewrites, polishes, and comedy passes on family fare like Beverly Hills Chihuahua and College Road Trip. After two years in the program, he stayed with Disney to script production rewrites for the Bruce Willis sci-fi starrer Surrogates as well as Tron: Legacy. Blaise’s adaptation of the novel Hover Car Racer for Disney landed him on the 2010 Black List and attracted the attention of Disney Animation, where he served in the story trust that shaped Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia. Blaise then moved to Paramount Animation where he served in the director’s trust in addition to writing Shedd for Oscar-winning animation director John Kahrs. Blaise and John Kahrs later collaborated on the Oscar-shortlisted Google Spotlight VR short Age of Sail. More recently, Blaise adapted Totems for Universal and Mandeville, as well as the film adaptation of Magic School Bus also for Universal. His critically acclaimed horror-comedy Vampires vs. The Bronx, premiered on Netflix in October 2020. In addition to features, Blaise was a writer/producer on Season two of USA’s “Shooter”, is a produced playwright, and co-wrote an illustrated anthology of ghost stories titled, “GHOST: Thirteen Haunting Tales To Tell” for Chronicle Books, which he sold to ABC Studios/Disney+.
WALT BECKER is a director, screenwriter, producer and author, known for directing the films Van Wilder and Wild Hogs. He just completed the Paramount Pictures live-action/CG film adaptation of Clifford the Big Red Dog Prior to that, he directed Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and Zookeeper. In television, Mr. Becker co-created and executive produced the TBS series Glory Daze a one-hour period comedy following the lives of four college freshmen in 1985, which he also directed. In addition to producing or directing many television pilots, Mr. Becker executive produced the Fox series Bad Samaritans for Netflix, and created the unscripted television format Worked for TBS and TRUE TV. The author of two novels, Misconception was co-written with attorney Robert Shapiro. His first novel Link was on the Los Angeles Times and National Bestseller Lists; the graphic novel Last Reign was published in 2009. Mr. Becker received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Studies from UCLA and a Master’s Degree in Film from the School of Cinematic Arts at USC.
JAY SCHERICK and DAVID RONN (Writers) most recently wrote Clifford the Big Red Dog for Paramount. Prior to that, they’ve had a wide-ranging body of work, writing The Smurfs & The Smurfs 2 for Sony, The Zookeeper for MGM, as well as Guess Who for Sony, & I Spy for Sony. In television, Scherick & Ronn have previously sold pilots to ABC, Fox & CBS & were on staff for three seasons of the popular ABC series Spin City.