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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 (as a Talking Animal) 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 1986).


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 timid bulldog T-Bone (Kel Mitchell) and hyperactive poodle 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 Baywatch movie) was attached as screenwriter. It will be released on November 13, 2020.

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

...until a reboot was released in December 2019 on Amazon Prime, with episodes also being broadcast jointly on PBSKids. (which, for its purposes, labels it as "Season 3" on its video app.) Further information revealed that the series shows 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!. Books featuring the new design and continuity began releasing in June 2019.

Clifford the Big Red Dog contains examples of:

  • 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...
  • 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:
    • In the 2000 Scholastic series, 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.
    • In the 2019 series, Clifford and his animal friends talk both to each other and to the humans.
  • 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 cel shading over the 2D animation. 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.
    • The 2019 series has an entirely new look that doesn't look quite like anything before (though Clifford's appearance is more faithful to that from the books) and most closely resembles the style of Peg + Cat, which was designed by the same people.
  • 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 three 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" because she was itching a spot behind her ear too much. At the end of the episode, Mac starts itching, and Cleo tells him that he'd look good in 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 release Clifford's Sing-Along Adventure 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 and they finally get fed up with it and leave. When she gets her bow stuck on a bush, she calls for help, but they don't listen to her due to her pranking. Then a real skunk appears and sprays her. Meanwhile, Clifford and T-Bone hear that Cleo still hasn't arrived home, so they return to the woods to look for her, and they smell that she got sprayed. Cleo apologizes to Clifford and T-Bone for her cruel pranks and promises never to do it again. The next day, after receiving several baths in a row to get rid of the smell, a now complimentary-odored Cleo exits the vet's office where Clifford and T-Bone are waiting outside.
    Cleo: Don't worry, you guys. I've learned my lesson. The stinky way!
  • 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.
  • Cut Short: The show had a third and final season in the production phase in 2003, which would have concluded with Clifford getting married and having babies. Unfortunately, that same year also saw the death of John Ritter, who suffered a fatal aortic dissection on the set of 8 Simple Rules. This resulted in the show's third season being canned and Clifford's Puppy Days taking its' place.
  • 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.
  • Firehouse Dalmatian:
    • Clifford's brother from the book, "Clifford the Firehouse Dog".
    • Tucker from the 2019 series is a Dalmatian puppy who belongs to Fire Chief Franklin and resides in the fire station.
  • 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.
  • A Girl and Her X: Emily and Clifford are a girl and her big red dog. Emily is the recipient of morals from the stories, and grows from her interactions with Clifford. The TV series expanded more on Clifford's point of view as a dog and what he learns as well.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Emily Elizabeth: young, blonde, with enough love to overcome basic biology.
  • Halloween Episode: "Boo!" The town watches a spooky movie at the beach. Jetta continually boasts about how brave she is.
  • Handicapped Badass: K.C. is a dog with only three legs, but he is perfectly capable of doing sports and fun things despite this.
  • Imagine Spot: These very frequently take place, courtesy of Clifford most of the time.
  • Jaw Drop: Jetta's jaw drops in "A Friend in Need" after she arrives back at the park and sees how Emily Elizabeth and the others finished cleaning it up for her, despite her insistence that she didn't need help.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mr. Bleakman is presented as a grumpy old man who easily gets annoyed at Clifford some of the time, with his mere presence being a pet peeve. However, considering some of the stuff Clifford does (trespassing into his neighbors property and/or making a mess to it, licking the man and making him take a hard fall, etc.), it can be hard not to see he`s in the right for some points of the series.
  • 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.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: The Paramount film is one, with Clifford himself being rendered as a CGI animated character not unlike Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020).
  • 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: To some degree with the 2000 television series. Not so far with the 2019 series, which doesn't yet have any known merchandise to date, other than tie-in books.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: A rather literal example. In one episode, Clifford is delivering a present that is meant to be mailed to Emily Elizabeth's cousin for her birthday. When he runs into Cleo and T-Bone at the post office, Cleo's first instinct is to take the package and open it to find out what it is, even though it's not hers to play with. It turns out to be a rubber ball that automatically self-inflates, and when they can't get it to deflate Clifford sits on the ball to force it in the box. It ends about as well as you'd expect.
  • 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.
    • Jetta Handover is perhaps the closest thing to a recurring antagonist, but her worst crimes usually just center around her need for attention and occasional annoyance with Clifford.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Out Sick: In one book, Clifford subs for a circus elephant (even dressing up as an elephant) because the elephant has "a cold in his nose".
  • 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 do 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.
  • 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.
  • Reality Ensues: Happens in the Movie, when Clifford arrives in the city. Naturally, the population gets freaked out at the sight of a dog, literally larger than a house, having just emerged from the harbor waters!
  • 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.
  • Significant Anagram: The "Birdwell" from Birdwell Island is a simple and obvious anagram of the last name of Clifford creator Norman Bridwell.
  • 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!
  • Spinoff Babies: Clifford's Puppy Days.
  • Supporting Protagonist: For being the main character, Clifford isn't the focus a ton in the 2000 animated series.
  • 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:
    • The 2000 animated series has this: "Clifford's so much fun, he's a friend to us all! I love Clifford the Big Red Dog! (woof!)"
    • The 2019 animated series goes with this as well: "Singing 'hey, it's a big red day / nothing in our way / So come and play with Clifford the Big Red Dog'!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The location of Birdwell Island is never revealed.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: Emily Elizabeth wears a pair of stripey stockings.

Alternative Title(s): Clifford The Big Red Dog


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