Minorities in cartoons: “Clifford the Big Red Dog”

This week’s minorities in cartoons post is “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” a series of Scholastic children’s books and several animated TV series. “Clifford” was created by Norman Bridwell.

Background

The series stars Clifford, the aforementioned “big red dog.” Of course, Clifford’s easily the biggest dog in fiction—while he doesn’t have a set size, he’s at least the size of a two or three story house. Clifford’s backstory states he was (ironically) the runt of his litter, but thanks to the ample love of his new owner, grade-schooler Emily Elizabeth, he grew… and grew…and grew. (That’s the official answer from Scholastic’s website, by the way.)

Most of the books focus on one simple subject—Emily Elizabeth going to school, Clifford becoming a Hollywood star, or Clifford having a reunion with his canine family.

“Clifford” the animated series

In 2000, PBS debuted an animated spin-off of “Clifford,” featuring John Ritter as the big red dog’s voice. Expanding upon the books and the supporting cast, the animated series gave Emily Elizabeth and her parents last names (“Howard”), and showed them moving from the city (unnamed, but it looks like New York) to the New England-like community of Birdwell Island. There, Clifford has much more space to move around, with the locals enjoying his presence.

Along with Clifford, the show also featured two (normal-sized) dog pals of his: Cleo, a poodle (voiced by Cree Summer), and T-Bone, a bulldog (voiced by Kel Mitchell, of Nickelodeon’s “Kevin and Kel” fame).

Other characters included Charley, Emily Elizabeth’s best (human) friend. Charley lives with his father, a restaurant owner; Charley’s Dad is from the Caribbean. Charley’s voiced by Gary LeRoi Gray, the current voice of A.J. on “The Fairly OddParents.”

Two other friends of the gang are Jetta (voiced by Kath Soucie) and her grey-colored dog, Mac (voiced by Cam Clarke). Jetta’s somewhat snooty, but still hangs around Emily Elizabeth and Charley. Mac is similarly snooty toward Clifford, Cleo, and T-Bone, but usually is willing to play with the other dogs. Mac’s name is short for “Machiavelli,” which might also describe part of his personality… and is also a rather obscure/adult-oriented reference for a kid’s cartoon.

“Clifford” had 65 episodes made, as well as a spin-off theatrical film.

“Clifford’s Puppy Days”

After John Ritter’s death, “Clifford” ended its run, but was soon followed by a spin-off prequel series, “Clifford’s Puppy Days.” Based on the series of “Clifford, the Little Red Puppy” books (about Clifford’s puppyhood), the prequel focused on Clifford and the Howards’ life in the city. Puppy-Clifford’s voice was done by Lara Jill Miller.

The series introduced some city-dwelling animal friends of Clifford’s: the Howards’ other pet, Daffodil, a rabbit (voiced by Kath Soucie); Jorge, a dachshund (voiced by Jess Harnell); Flo and Zo, a pair of kittens (voiced by LaTonya Holmes and Ogie Banks); and Norville, a bird (voiced by Henry Winkler) who lives in a tree near the gang’s apartment building.

Reflecting the big city setting, the human characters of “Puppy Days” are a diverse group. Emily Elizabeth’s friends include: Nina, Jorge’s owner (voiced by Masiela Lusha); Evan, an African-American classmate (voiced by Orlando Brown); and Shun, another classmate who’s Japanese-American (voiced by Lauren Tom). There’s also the Howards’ neighbor, Mr. Solomon (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer). Mr. Solomon is an artist who’s the owner of Flo and Zo; he also uses a wheelchair and is Jewish.

Overall, 39 episodes of “Puppy Days” were produced for PBS. Both animated series are currently available on Netflix in their entirety, as well as in reruns on some PBS stations.

(Updated 9/4/16)

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