Film / Clifford

A 1994 Black Comedy film directed by Paul Flaherty, starring Martin Short, Charles Grodin, and Mary Steenburgen. Produced by Orion Pictures in 1990, its release was delayed for several years due to financial problems.

The film opens in the year 2050, introducing Roger (Ben Savage), a 10-year old Catholic schoolboy. The boy has just blown up the school gym because of a personal grievance (his parents wouldn't allow him to join the basketball team). Elderly priest Clifford Daniels (Short) catches up to him and tries to convince him to change his ways. To do so, Daniels starts telling his own life story.

Flashback to 1990, with Clifford as a 10-year-old troublemaker. He has a personal grievance, too. He wanted to visit Dinosaur World, a theme park located in California. Instead his parents booked airplane tickets to Hawaii. But Clifford finds a way to visit California anyway.

The movie was a critical flop, with critics pointing out that it was hardly amusing. As Roger Ebert put it, little Clifford is beyond your standard Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: "mean, vindictive, spiteful and cruel. So hateful that if a real little boy had played him, the movie would be like The Omen filtered through The Good Son." Several of the attempts at humor were disturbing instead. In one throwaway scene, Sarah is sexually assaulted by Martin's boss. If it was meant to be funny, few laughed at it.

While not a Creator Killer in itself, the film contributed to the financial problems of nearly-bankrupt Orion Productions. Orion had had three major box office hits in the 1990s: Dances with Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs and the first The Addams Family adaptation. The first two failed to cover the debt Orion had acquired because of a long string of 1980s box office bombs. The third film hardly helped the company, as Orion foolishly sold part of the distribution rights to Paramount. By 1994, many of Orion's most prominent executives, directors and actors had left the studio. After a few years operating as a ghost of itself, the company was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1998. Today, most of its productions between 1978-1982 belong to the Time Warner Company, most of its productions between 1982 and 1998 belong to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Not to be confused with the large red dog of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: At the climax, Larry the scary Rex malfunctions and nearly kills Clifford, but he is saved by his uncle.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: At some point, Clifford narrates a rather outrageous story of having been abducted by your stereotypical outlaw bikers: "They tied me up...and then they told me stories that they do on their bikes. Some of them were fun, but some of them were scary!"
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Dinosaur World is an example of this...well, since it ended up being a comeuppance for Clifford's antics throughout the film.
  • The Atoner: The Clifford of 2050 is a very different person than the one of 1990.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: One of the taglines, comparing Clifford to a pit bull: "The other one is a dog."
  • Bound and Gagged: Bound but not Gagged. Martin has Clifford in a straitjacket during his visit to Dinosaur World.
  • Character Title: Clifford is a movie about a boy named...Clifford.
  • Clear My Name: Part of Martin's motivation in the latter part of the film. Clifford initially framed him for placing a bomb under city hall, leading to his arrest. When the charge didn't stick and no bomb was found, the police filed charges against him for initiating a panic. Martin repeatedly tries to get Clifford to sign the confession which would clear his name
  • Companion Cube: Stephan, Clifford's toy dinosaur.
  • Death Glare: Clifford does this whenever he is about to wreak havoc.
  • Dinner with the Boss: While Martin is in San Francisco, he notices Sarah having a romantic dinner of sorts with their boss Gerald Ellis.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Roger blows up the school gym because he wasn't allowed to join the school basketball team.
    • When Martin is unable to take Clifford to Dinosaur World thanks to a last-minute project dropped on his lap, Clifford proceeds to make his life a living hell.
  • The Ditz: Miss Sarah Davis as she comes across as rather naive given that she is oblivious to Clifford's antics. Also, see Hypocritical Humor below:
  • Dodgy Toupee: Lampshaded with Gerald Ellis and Clifford somehow notices it when they first meet. Also, said toupee gets tossed from a moving vehicle after Sarah supposedly ripped it off by pushing him away. Prior to Martin doing his presentation, he notices his boss wearing a distinctly different toupee with a ponytail.
    • When Clifford first met Mr. Ellis, he said "My that's the bestest looking wig I've ever seen!"
  • Enfant Terrible: While Clifford does not fit the "adorable child" description, he is a child. A child who sabotages aircrafts and wrecks lives.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Dinosaur World, a park full of animatronic dinos.
  • Gilligan Cut: Subverted when Martin attempts to break the news about not being able to go to Dinosaur World, it then cuts to Clifford losing control of himself and attempting to hijack Martin's car which causes him to weave through traffic.
  • Humiliation Conga: What happens to Martin after his model explodes on him during his presentation.
  • Hypocritical Humor: While Martin is trying to convince Sarah of being innocent, she doesn't believe a word he says, points out that he comes off as a phony, and proclaims "I can spot a phony a mile away." The next second, a Drag Queen asks Sarah if she has seen his/her missing dog. Sarah fails to notice he is actually a guy, adressing him/her as "Ma'am."
  • It Never Gets Any Easier: At some point, Martin attempts to reason with Clifford that visiting Dinosaur World might be his dream now and failing to achieve it is painful, but Martin has had similar disappointments, with a place he wanted to visit as a child getting closed before he ever had a chance to; he survived. But then Clifford ask this about the pain and the disappointment, "Does it ever get easier, Uncle Martin?". Martin has to admit: "Not really."
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Clifford, Clifford, Clifford
  • Parental Issues: Clifford reacts to Martin's suggestion of returning him to his parents as if it is a threat, pleading: "Don't send me back to my parents, they hate me!" Martin points out: "Not as much as I do!"
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Gerald Ellis (Dabney Coleman) is Martin's boss. At some point, he decides that the location Martin chose for the train line they are designing is off. He chooses a location two miles away. Martin quickly estimates that this would cause the line to go right through the Sepulveda Dam. Ellis still doesn't get that this is a problem, "you'll come up with something."
  • Quest for Sex: It is implied that this is the main reason why Mr. Ellis took Sarah Davis to San Francisco. It is obvious as he is trying to put some moves on her and woo her away from Martin.
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: Clifford gets Martin arrested in front of Sarah's family after calling in a fake bomb threat in city hall, made out of mixing audios of Martin's scolding of Clifford with his answering machine.
  • Sanity Slippage: Oh so much for Martin as the movie progresses...
  • Shout-Out: Martin warns Sarah against taking Clifford with her, "Don't blame me when his head starts spinning around! Watch out for the green vomit!."
  • The '80s:
    • The hairstyles of the attendees of that party Clifford was throwing.
    • In the scene where Clifford eats breakfast, the Pepsi can had the pre-1992 logo given the fact that this movie was actually filmed in 1990.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Martin gives a blistering one to Clifford after rescuing him from the Larry the Scary Rex ride.
    Clifford Daniels: I'm sorry...
    Martin Daniels: (pushes Clifford away as he tries to hug him) NO! NO! Clifford, don't... I don't want to hug you. I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to hug you!
    Clifford Daniels: But I really am sorry...
    Martin Daniels: You really are sorry? You know sorrow is a human emotion, and as we know, you are NOT a human boy! You're just, this... this destructive thing and eventually everyone just gets to hate you!
    • Also, Sarah dishes one out to Martin while he encounters her in San Francisco. See Hypocritical Humor above.
  • This Means War!: Clifford's reaction to his uncle failing to keep a promise.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Averted.
  • Tyrannosaurus rex: The main attraction of Dinosaur World is a huge, animatronic Tyrannosaurus aptly named "Larry, the scary Rex".
  • You Keep Using That Word: Clifford always uses the word "bestest" to describe things.