Updated on August 7, 2022
Today’s cartoon review takes a look at “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” a series of Scholastic children’s books and several animated TV series. “Clifford” was created by Norman Bridwell.
The series stars Clifford, the aforementioned “big red dog.” Of course, Clifford’s easily the biggest dog in fiction (sorry, Lockjaw)—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 owner, grade-schooler Emily Elizabeth, he grew… and grew…and grew.
The books and cartoons state Clifford grew so large, they ended up moving from their initial home in a city apartment to the countryside (the New England-esque “Birdwell Island” in the animated series).
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 (normal sized) canine family.
2000 animated series
In 2000, PBS debuted an animated spin-off of “Clifford,” featuring John Ritter (in one of his final roles) as the big red dog’s voice. 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).
The human characters include:
- Jetta, a snooty classmate of Emily Elizabeth.
- Charley, Emily Elizabeth’s best (human) friend. Charley lives with his father, a restaurant owner; Charley’s Dad is originally from the Caribbean.
“Clifford” had 65 episodes made, as well as a spin-off theatrical film.
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. A new group of animal friends were created for the series, including a second pet for the Howards, Daffodil (a rabbit).
Emily Elizabeth’s human friends in this series include:
- Evan, an African-American classmate.
- Shun, another classmate who’s Japanese-American.
- Mr. Solomon, the Howards’ neighbor; he’s an artist who’s Jewish and uses a wheelchair.
39 episodes of “Puppy Days” were produced for PBS.
2019 animated series
A new “Clifford” animated series debuted on PBS and Amazon Prime Video in 2019. The new series is basically a reboot; while still set on Birdwell Island, there’s an entirely new cast of characters unrelated to the 2000s series. Oddly, Emily Elizabeth and Clifford can talk to each other here, though she’s the only one who can converse with the big red dog.
Clifford’s also been remodeled to resemble the books’ version a bit more; there’s also more song numbers. The latter might be a result of the show being made by the same staff as PBS’ “Peg + Cat.” Like the original series, the show still covers “slice of life” lessons, plus an emphasis on reading.
Some of the supporting human characters of note for this series include:
- Mrs. Clayton, an African-American neighbor of the Howards. She’s also the island’s librarian.
- Pablo, one of Emily Elizabeth’s friends.
- Samantha, another one of Emily Elizabeth’s friends. She has two mothers, Dr. and Ms. Mulberry; Dr. Mulberry’s Birdwell Island’s veterinarian.
- The 2019 series featuring (and normalizing) LGBTQ characters via Samantha’s moms.
- The 2000s cartoons featured various regular and guest voices familiar to animation fans, from Cree Summers to Alan Oppenheimer (the latter the voice of Skeletor in “He-Man”).
- The original series’ popularity has been so strong that it’s still in reruns on some PBS stations to this day, despite A) no longer being a first-run PBS show, B) the existence of the 2019 series, and C) not being in high definition.
Here’s the opening credits for the 2000s “Clifford the Big Red Dog” PBS series. (Which YouTube doesn’t allow me to embed, for some reason.)
And here’s the opening credits for the 2019 series.
Image from “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” (PBS / Scholastic)