Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Clifford: Clifford Saves the Day! / Clifford's Fluffiest Friend Cleo (2000)
"Clifford just got a brand-new dirty old tire!"- T-Bone (Kel Mitchell)
Stars: Clifford, the Big Red Dog (voiced by John Ritter)
Other Stars: Emily Elizabeth (Grey Delisle), T-Bone (Kel Mitchell), Cleo (Cree Summer)
Director: John Over
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (no objectionable content)
Run Time: 01h:34m:22s
Release Date: 2001-11-20
DVD ReviewNorman Bridwell's popular Clifford, the Big Red Dog storybooks have been a mainstay of Scholastic's lineup for at least a few decades—I remember reading Clifford stories in my elementary school days, in the mid-1970s. A television market hungry for intelligent children's programming brought Clifford to animated life on PBS in the nineteen-nineties, and eight "themed" episodes populate Artisan's recent DVD release, Clifford: Clifford Saves the Day! / Clifford's Fluffiest Friend Cleo.
The animated series differs from the books (as I remember them) in focus—Clifford (voiced by John Ritter) and his canine friends, T-Bone (Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (Cree Summer), dominate most of the action, with Clifford's owner, Emily Elizabeth (Grey Delisle), providing a link to the human world. The rest of Emily's family is not seen in this collection, though the island where Emily and Clifford live is populated by a number of recurring human characters. The "look" of Bridwell's books has been adapted for animation as well—Clifford resembles his storybook self, though his lines are cleaner with less visible "fuzz," and Emily's appearance has been streamlined and cosmetically enhanced to some degree. The program looks very good by television standards, with simple painted backgrounds and a fluid, brush-like line delineating the animated characters. Animation is limited but well-executed, and the canine characters are treated with a respectful, pleasantly non-anthropomorphic approach. The dogs can talk to each other and to other animals, but not to humans; some nice non-verbal interspecies moments occur as a result.
The Clifford Saves the Day! package consists of four episodes, each of which discusses a relatively complex ethical concept in a simple but effective manner as Clifford solves a problem for his friends. Stormy Weather illustrates that an obsession can be an asset, after Clifford's incessant digging helps save the island during an unexpected rainstorm. Islander of the Year allows Emily and friends to nominate members of the community for the title in an essay contest, examining a variety of "role models." Circus Stars allows Clifford and friends to frolic with the big red dog's idol, a circus elephant named Gordo, and speaks to issues of friendship and the obligations it sometimes entails. And in Clifford on Parade, Emily and her friend Charlie deal with creative conflict as they work on their float for the annual island parade.
The four stories that make up Clifford's Fluffiest Friend Cleo are generally lighter and funnier in tone, as Clifford's female pal Cleo corrects her own behavior after realizing the impact of her thoughtless words and actions. The fact that Cleo figures these issues out for herself enhances the episodes' impact—there are no preachy "authority" figures here, just one dog trying to do the right thing. Fluffed-Up Cleo teaches that pride in one's accomplishments need not be expressed by constant bragging. Cleo's Fair Share discusses the risks and rewards of sharing, even when a valued possession might be damaged in the process. Next, Cleo nearly wears out her welcome while staying at Clifford's for a few days, though the two remain Friends, Morning, Noon and Night. Two's Company depicts Cleo's attempts to monopolize the attentions of K.C., a visiting dog, at the expense of her friendship with Clifford and T-Bone.
Clifford manages to be educational without giving the game away—it teaches by example, and encourages children to think about ethical issues, rather than dispensing tired homilies and moving on to the next topic. What goes unsaid is often important as well—for example, the visiting K.C. only has three legs, but the topic is not a subject for comment; tolerance is taken for granted, and there's no hint of pity or tragedy about the character's disability. The world of Clifford is organic and grounded—the island environment is treated specifically and naturalistically, eschewing the generic "neighborhood" flavor of too many children's shows. Clifford, Cleo and T-Bone behave like real dogs, and their childlike outlook works well here—they're not treated as human surrogates, but their elementary struggles with right and wrong will ring true for most human youngsters, and parents as well. Good stuff from PBS and Scholastic.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Artisan presents Clifford in its original 1.33:1 full-frame made-for-television aspect ratio, with a competent digital transfer drawn from a high-quality video master. Colors are rich and solid, although some scenes seem overcompressed, with blurry lines and jittery detail. Some artifacts of the digital animation production process are also apparent—stairstepping on diagonal lines turns up on occasion, and some cels and backgrounds "res-out" due to scanning resolution limitations. Not a feature-quality transfer, but the material is certainly watchable.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Clifford retains its original television stereo soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format on DVD. It's a standard contemporary television presentation—digitally-mastered dialogue, music and sound effects are crisp and clean, but dynamic range is limited and the track is almost monaural in nature, with just a bit of imaging across the front soundstage and no use of the surround channel. Music has some low-end presence, and everything sounds fine—it's just a simple, TV-targeted audio presentation.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
- The Clifford Dance
- Real-Life Doggy Friends
- Clifford's Big Ideas—with Parenting Tips
Parents will appreciate the Clifford's Big Ideas section, which includes three, one-minute cartoons illustrating basic kid ethics: "Help Others," "Have Respect," and "Share." Each animated segment is followed by several screens of notes for parents, along with a related activity project that allows parent and child to explore the "big idea" together. One activity requires web connectivity to access Clifford's printable "hero badge," though it might be fun to come up with an original design as part of the project.
A set of six 30-second Real-Life Doggy Friends segments features children talking honestly and lovingly about their relationships with their pet dogs. One piece focuses on a working farm dog who helps herd cows; the rest are simple, straightforward kid-friendly documentaries about children and dogs.
The Clifford Dance isn't much of an extra—it's just a 30-second "PBS Kids!" promo spot that edits bits of footage into a "dance" for Clifford and friends. Children who like to move may want to "spin, jump and bark" with Clifford for a few minutes, but this feature is not likely to hold their attention for long.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsArtisan's Clifford: Clifford Saves the Day! / Clifford's Fluffiest Friend Cleo provides eight episodes of entertainment for young fans of Norman Bridwell's famous Big Red Dog, along with subtle, kid-friendly lessons on friendship and ethics. Artisan's DVD transfer is competent, and parents will appreciate the supplemental material. A good DVD value.
Dale Dobson 2002-01-02