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Literature / Clifford the Big Red Dog

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Clifford the Big Red Dog. If you're from North America, you've most probably heard of this series of picture books, although you probably didn't know that the first book was originally published in 1963. Since then, many, many more books have been published, as well as an animated adaptation.

The books, which were written by Norman Bridwell, star the adventures of the eponymous Clifford, a giant of a dog, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth Howard. Clifford originally started out as the runt of the litter, but Emily Elizabeth's love made him grow—and grow, and grow, and grow, ad infinitum. Well, not quite—he stopped growing once he was about twenty-five feet high, although his height isn't set in stone; it varies, depending on the story. He was way too big for the Howards to properly take care of Clifford in the city at this point, so they moved to the country (Birdwell Island in the TV adaptation) where he could have more room to move around.


In the 80s, Nelvana picked up the rights to the series and spun off six half-hour direct to video specials with it. Starring Alyson Court opposite Brent Titcomb, each special featured a typical slice-of-life storyline peppered with two songs, and was animated with No Fourth Wall, allowing Emily and Clifford to "converse" directly with the viewers, but strangely Emily and Clifford could never converse among themselves in English, as to leverage on Scholastic's then-recent study that children learned better through participation rather than through repetition. After that, the franchise reverted to books (unless you count in the discontinuity that is "Clifford's Sing Along Adventure", the live-action mixed footage direct to video special by Warner Home Video that was released in the early 90s).


This went on until the year 2000. Scholastic wanted to do another animated adaptation. Throwing away the old format and rebooting the continuity, it now featured Grey DeLisle as Emily Elizabeth, opposite John Ritter as Clifford, with two new characters added to the leading cast, these being T-Bone (Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (Cree Summer). The new version was such a phenomenal success that it ran for two seasons, spun off a movie, and even resulted in a licensed kiddie ride. Things weren't so rosy after the movie, however. John Ritter passed away shortly after of a heart attack on the set of 8 Simple Rules. While Scholastic had been pondering upon the idea of a sequel for a while, the death of Mr. Ritter cemented the decision on a spinoff, titled Clifford's Puppy Days. Two seasons were made before Scholastic decided to take a break from making a series out of the franchise again, while maintaining the series franchise. The books are still being printed, along with merchandise.

In May 2012, it was announced that Illumination and Universal were working together to create a new Clifford movie, which would be based on the original book, but wouldn't have anything to do with the television series. However, the film went into Development Hell and Universal ended up moving on to other projects, causing the rights to expire. The rights were then picked up by Paramount, and Justin Malen (who penned the upcoming Baywatch movie) was attached as screenwriter.

Norman Bridwell passed away in December of 2014. Two more books were released after his death, but it seems that the series has come to a final end following that.

There is confirmation on a reboot that is scheduled for a 2019 release on Amazon Prime, with PBS Kids scheduled to return. Further information reveals that the series will show Clifford and Emily Elizabeth talking directly to each other, that a massive new book launch in association with the series is planned, and that the Paramount film is still in the works. Among the staff of the remake is Jennifer Oxley, known for series such as Peg + Cat and Wonder Pets.

Clifford the Big Red Dog contains examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: You'd think all the lessons Jetta learns about friendship would start to sink in at some point.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Many of the animals have nonstandard fur color like bright red and purple, mainly the first part. Some, like T-Bone's yellow and Mac's blue, can be interpreted as exaggerations of colors like blonde and grey, but then there are ones like Cleo, the purple poodle.
  • Animal Talk: Clifford and his animal friends can talk to each other, but humans can not understand them; whenever a human is around, all that comes out is barking.
  • Animated Adaptation: Three television series, a series of videos from The '80s, and one movie.
  • Art Evolution:
    • The movie, titled Clifford's Really Big Movie, actually had a budget. So the animators decided to play around with cell shading. It worked ok for Clifford and the other animals. Unfortunately Emily-Elizabeth and the other regular human characters got dumped somewhere in the Uncanny Valley.
    • Also, there's a major art shift between the 80s specials (which were much more faithful to Norman Bridwell's illustrations) and the 2000s TV series.
  • Artistic License – Law: One episode has Mr. Bleakman convincing Sheriff Lewis to ban people from bringing their dogs to the park all because he was fed up that they had disrupted the peace and quiet he desired while watching the birds. It seems highly unlikely that such a radical measure would be enacted on the protests of a single citizen over such petty circumstances, and it would almost certainly take more than the town sheriff to actually approve it.
  • Attention Whore: Jetta, especially in "And Baby Makes Four", when she spends the entire episode trying to get attention away from her new baby brother at his arrival party.
  • Balloon Belly:
    • Clifford, T-Bone, and Cleo after eating a lot of dog treats in "Tummy Trouble".
    • Frankie the chihuahua in "Little Big Pup".
    Frankie: Oh sure, I feel bigger, in my tummy.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • In one episode Charley envies the lives of the dogs so much and wishes he were a dog so that he didn't have all the responsibilities of a human. He gets his wish, only to find that he can't enjoy the things he does as a kid. It all turns out to be just a dream, with Charley now appreciating what he is.
    • Mr. Bleakman becomes so fed up with the dogs interfering with his birdwatching in the park that he actually convinces the sheriff to ban all dogs from the park just so he can finally have some peace and quiet. Instead nobody comes to the park because they can't enjoy the company of their dogs, forcing Mr. Bleakman to realize that he had been selfish in his actions.
  • Big Damn Movie: Clifford's Really Big Movie. This trope came here just to see a big red dog.
  • Big, Friendly Dog: Clifford of course - extra emphasis on big. He may not be the Trope Namer but he is certainly one of the strongest examples of this trope. He is literally as big as a house and is a such a lovable sweetheart.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Everyone except for Clifford, who is the only character to have normal eyes; this trope is played straight with his puppy counterpart. Averted with the character designs in Clifford's Really Big Movie.
  • Canis Major: Again, when they say "big", they aren't kidding.
  • Canon Foreigner: All the characters except Emily, Clifford, and Emily's parents were created specifically for the two shows.
  • Catch-Phrase: Cleo's "Have I ever steered you wrong?"
  • Central Theme: Accepting how different we all are.
  • Character Narrator: All of the books are narrated by Emily Elizabeth.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Mac cheats against T-Bone in order to win a race against him in return for his collar, putting forth the challenge almost purely to spite T-Bone. He wins, only to feel guilty over his actions and insist that T-Bone keep his collar, promising to beat him fair and square next time.
  • Cone of Shame: Cleo got to wear one in the episode "Cleo Gets A Cone".
  • Continuity Reboot: Between the Nelvana videos and the Scholastic self-produced TV series. The former made no mention of Birdwell Island and/or any of Clifford's or Emily's friends that the latter is much more commonly known for.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover of the Warner Home Video live action movie had a black girl hugging Clifford. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but fans are used to seeing Emily Elizabeth hugging Clifford and not some random kid. Hence said fans were understandably worried that Warner had given Emily Elizabeth a Race Lift.
  • Crying Wolf: "The Dog Who Cried Woof" has Cleo repeatedly telling the others a ghost skunk named Wiffy, who she'd told ghost stories about, was after her as a prank. When she gets in trouble with a real skunk, they don't listen to her due to her pranking and she gets sprayed.
  • Cultural Translation:
    • In the U.K., the show was redubbed with British actors with Tom Eastwood being the voice of Clifford.
    • According to Ben Small, he played a character named George in "Clifford's Puppy Days", which is probably Jorge.
  • Cute Giant: Clifford himself, of course.
  • Easily Forgiven: Mac cheats against T-Bone in order to win a race against him. When he confesses, his friends take the news just a tad too well.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The books and cartoon are about a dog named Clifford who is big and red.
  • Exact Words:
    • Becomes a plot point in "Doggie Garden"; the kids state that "almost anything grows on Birdwell Island", and Cleo takes the "anything" part a bit too literally, opting to grow a garden full of dog toys. Needless to say, it doesn't work out.
    • Another good example is when Clifford volunteers to watch T-Bone's pile of leaves while he's away from the group, intending to jump on them later. Clifford however gives into temptation and takes the jump without T-Bone's permission, resulting in his entire pile being blown away. Clifford resolves to collect every single leaf he can from the pile, as in the exact same leaves that have now been blown all across the island, even rejecting every other leaf he can sense was not from T-Bone's pile. Naturally, Cleo thinks he's being ridiculous, and yet somehow he manages to pull it off all before T-Bone gets back.
  • Flashback: The books are told by Emily Elizabeth as a flashback to a past event.
  • Free-Range Pets: The dogs all walk around town on their own, even Clifford despite the fact he's a hazard.
  • Gentle Giant: Clifford, emphasis on giant.
  • Gigantic Adults, Tiny Babies: It's because he was so tiny as a pup that Emily Elizabeth wished he would grow bigger.
  • Handicapped Badass: K.C. is a dog with only three legs, but he is perfectly capable of doing sports and fun things despite this.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Emily Elizabeth: young, blonde, with enough love to overcome basic biology.
  • Imagine Spot: These very frequently take place, courtesy of Clifford most of the time.
  • Karma Houdini: In one episode, Cleo gets a new playground assembled in her backyard and Mac insists on being the first to play on it, spending the episode conning his way onto it at the expense of T-Bone and Clifford. Eventually Cleo sprains her paw while playing and Mac doesn't care enough to help her inside, leaving her to fend for herself. Cleo realizes his deceit, but Mac is never forced to answer for it in any meaningful way.
  • The Kiddie Ride: The infamous Clifford ride made by Jolly Rogers of the UK. They're actually pretty common worldwide, you may have seen one at your local mall.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cleo and Mac in "Cleo Gets a Cone". While they don't say it to her face, they do talk about how "ridiculous" a dog wearing a cone looks, and are soon forced to wear one themselves. Clifford and T-Bone, who don't make such remarks, are completely fine.
  • Licensed Games/Edutainment Games/iOS Games: About a dozen or so titles for PC/Macs. One for the iPhone (with a separate, HD version for the iPad, and an iPad-exclusive title). Also one title for the Leapfrog Leapster console. And that's not counting the platforms that are technically not gaming devices!
  • Limited Wardrobe: Everyone in the show wears the exact same outfit on a daily basis.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Jetta might be a snotty Rich Bitch in training, but she's still part of the group (and Clifford likes her). Machiavelli is a rare male example.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The Really Big Tribute CD. Jody Gray loves this trope. They got Jody Gray to write the score and lyrics to the CD. Cue Emily singing about how great Clifford is- to a tune that sounded bitter. This also happens to some extent in the movie, who's music and lyrics are, unsurprisingly, scored and written by Jody Gray. Although the movie leans towards Mood Whiplash instead.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Of course!
  • Mood Whiplash: The music from the movie. For something that's supposed to be fun, they have extremely depressing songs about how you gotta hit the lows before you can find the highs.
  • Motor Mouth: One of the other dogs on the island Al, who likes to broadcast their beach ball games while he himself also happens to be playing. This often leads to him being caught unprepared when the ball heads his way.
  • The Movie: Both Clifford's Really Big Movie and an announced live-action/animated movie that doesn't have anything to do with the 2000 TV series.
  • Opaque Nerd Glasses: Mr. Bleakman doesn't have pupils from his glasses, though averted in the movie when he's given the same eyes as everyone.
  • Nice Guy: Clifford is so sweet, helpful, and lovable its hard to not fall in love with him. Even though he is large and can cause trouble because of this...admit it, you wish you had a dog as wonderful as Clifford
  • Nice Girl: Emily Elizabeth is a very kind and sweet little girl who is very responsible of Clifford and loves him oh so deeply.
  • No Antagonist: Unless you count George Wolfsbottom from Clifford's Really Big Movie, the wealthy CEO of Tummy Yummies who kidnaps Clifford for his spoiled daughter Madison.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Clifford is the only character without Black Bead Eyes until the movie. Or Clifford's Puppy Days, if you count that.
  • Nobody Poops: If you google "Where does Clifford poop?" you'll get some highly disturbing results. That said, the very idea pretty much cements this trope...
  • 100% Adoration Rating: Pretty much everyone on Birdwell Island loves Clifford. Even the Bleakmans have moments where they admit they care about Clifford and like him. The 80s theme song even lampshades this.
    Here comes Clifford, everyone loves Clifford...
  • Performance Anxiety:
    • Cleo had this problem in "Limelight Fright", where she wanted to dance in front of a audience. She overcomes this at the end of the episode.
    • Mary didn't want to to her piano performance in "Stage Struck" as she is afraid of doing it in front of people. Emily Elizabeth tells that she would perform with her, but this was changed as she was stuck in a magic box when Vaz was trying to find the key. Mary was afraid of doing it by herself, but Emily encourages her that she can do it, and just reminds her that she can by just imagining that there's only Clifford. She gets over it when she gets more confidence.
  • Red Is Heroic: Clifford has red fur and is a nice dog.
  • Shaking the Rump: The dogs seem especially fond of this whenever everybody's dancing.
  • Small Name, Big Ego:
    • Jetta Handover, who is constantly seeking to be the center of attention. Prominent examples include when she initially tried to hog the spotlight at her baby brother's own arrival party and when she nominated herself for Islander of the Year. Suffice to say, her efforts usually leave her humbled in some way.
    • Her conceitedness seems to have rubbed off onto Mac, who is similarly smug and early on was not above showing off even to his closest friends, much to their chagrin; He does get better as the series goes on, though.
    • Cleo has her moments of this as well. Though in one episode when she brags about her latest dog show win to her friends, she has enough sense to realize later why this wasn't fair to them and apologizes for getting carried away.
  • Smelly Skunk: "The Dog Who Cried Woof" had Cleo taunting the other dogs with ghost stories about a giant ghost skunk named Wiffy. She kept pranking them by saying he was after her, and they finally got fed up with it. Then a real skunk shows up and she scares it. The others, while out looking for her, smell that she got sprayed.
    Cleo: Aww, man! P.U.!!! That is definitely not a ghost skunk! That is the real thing!
  • Supporting Protagonist: For being the main character, Clifford isn't the focus a ton in the 2000 animated series.
  • Spinoff Babies: Clifford's Puppy Days.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Sheriff Lewis doesn't seem to do any police work. It would seem that Birdwell Island is a peaceful, law-abiding place and there are no crooks or crime. There's even an empty jail cell.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: In "Paw Print Picasso" from Clifford's Puppy Days, after Clifford gets paint paw prints all over Emily Elizabeth's painting and his friends suggest he tell her the next day, Daffodil discovers him alone the next morning on Emily Elizabeth's bed, tossing and turning in his sleep and muttering "It's my fault, it's my fault..."
  • Theme Tune Cameo: Very much so for the animated series, so much in fact, that almost any in-universe sing-song is sung to the tune of the theme song, such as Emily Elizabeth's father's song about raking leaves, or Cleo's mocking love-song about T-Bone and Mimi.
  • Thick-Line Animation: This is the standard for both Clifford the Big Red Dog and Clifford's Puppy Days - thick black lines with generally bright coloring inside.
  • Three Shorts: The animated series ran like this on PBS with two 11 minuted shorts divided by a story segment featuring Emily and Clifford.
  • Title Theme Tune: For the original PBS television animated series, though not the Clifford's Puppy Days spin-off, which manages to avoid it. * "Clifford's so much fun, he's a friend to us all! I love Clifford the Big Red Dog! (woof!)"
  • Tomboy: Cleo is the only girl of the dogs and while she may look girly she actually hates getting her fur done and jumps in the mud immediately after it's over. She also gets along great with Clifford and his other friends.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Cleo, usually due to her overconfidence. Often lampshaded when she utters her catchphrase "Have I ever steered you wrong?", to which Clifford and T-Bone will often say yes.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: In "Helping Paws" from Clifford's Puppy Days, Clifford shouts "not it!" upon being woken up by Daffodil after she relives him from babysitting so he can take a nap, as if he thought they were playing tag.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: Jetta's trip to Titanic Tower in the city results in this after she and her mother spent the entire day just trying to get to the darned thing......only for their view of the city to be ruined by clouds and smog. After having earlier rubbed it in Emily's face that she couldn't join them for the trip, Jetta comes back home to Emily (who thanks to Clifford had a much better afternoon) to suggest that next time they could go see the tower together. Her mother immediately shoots down the very idea, saying next time they'd just go to the zoo instead.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: Emily Elizabeth wears a pair of stripey stockings.

Alternative Title(s): Clifford The Big Red Dog


Example of: