How Clifford The Big Red Dog's Producers Decided Just How Big To Make The Beloved Character For The Movie

Of all the reasons to lovingly remember Norman Bridwell's classic Clifford the Big Red Dog stories, the titular pet's gasp-worthy size was definitely a major factor. As one might expect, Clifford's inherent big-ness was also a major point of concern for the filmmakers putting together Paramount's live-action adaptation, which stars comedic actor Jack Whitehall and Big Little Lies' Darby Camp opposite the overgrown canine. Just how big would be too big for this vividly colored behemoth?

That's precisely the question CinemaBlend brought to Clifford the Big Red Dog's director Walt Becker (Old Dogs) and producer Jordan Kerner (The Mighty Ducks), as seen in the video above. When I asked what the conversations were like regarding Clifford's size, Becker told me:

In the books, he was kind of all over the place at times, you know? That's the beauty of being able to just line-draw whatever you want to do. So people kinda, I think, had an inkling about like, 'Whoa, is he supposed to be three stories tall? I remember seeing a picture of a book like this.' What we did, really, is drill down to the basics of what the author [first conceived]. When he started, the whole idea we'd heard in one of his interviews was that he always wanted to ride his dog like a horse, and so he wanted a horse-like dog. So that sort of was the initial kind of north star for us.

With moments in Clifford the Big Red Dog’s hijinks-filled trailers certainly hinting at Darby Camp’s pre-teen Emily taking a white-knuckle ride atop Clifford’s back, Norman Bridwell’s initial pipe dream was certainly a fitting viewpoint to serve as the character’s visual foundation. If nothing else, it helps set boundaries within the story, in that the screenwriters have a better understanding of what the extremes are on either side of the mega-dog spectrum. “Is he big enough to inhale another normal-sized dog?” Check. “Is he big enough to swallow a dogcatcher’s van?” Denied. 

Of course, making that first decision certainly didn’t guarantee that all the Clifford-related choices that came after would be any easier. And if some hardcore measurement scientist — surely a real thing — watched the film with hyper-scrutiny, it’s possible they’d notice that Clifford the Big Red Dog’s size may still ebb and flow with the situations that arise. But Walt Becker, with the film’s New York City setting in mind, found a sweet spot for Clifford’s size that aimed to avoid any comparisons to movies about giant monsters. The director continued: 

Then when you get into the live actual world, you just have to think of the practical things. Like if the dog is ever inside a place, he's not going to be able to be either 8 or 10 feet tall. So if he's bigger than that, you know, it's Clifford on the farm and he's sitting outside. And so we wanted to make it in Manhattan, and you got to think about that. So we kept it at what we think is a magical size of about 10 feet, and something that she could ride like a horse, but that could also sleep at the foot of your bed, if you will. So yeah, that was a challenge trying to figure out just what the perfect height is. And I've always said, as much as I think some people would love to see one of those big monster movies, that if we made him [300] feet tall, that now you're making King Kong. That's a different sort of story, you know? Interesting, but not quite the story that we wanted to tell about kind of this unconditional love between this little girl and a puppy.

Clifford the Big Red Dog, for all its calamity filled moments that are a staple of younger-skewing adventures, thankfully doesn’t tap into the disaster-movie havoc that takes place in the Monster-Verse these days, as it would not go well for Clifford, much less Emily and Jack Whitehall’s Casey. But I feel like Paul Rodriguez and Horatio Sanz’s characters would still make it through intact.

Jordan Kerner echoed Walt Becker's sentiment in pointing out that differences between mediums necessarily meant that Clifford the Big Red Dog's film team had to approach the character's look in a different way from how the children's author did.

And also, someone like Norman Bridwell in a book, is able some books, [Clifford's] eight- or ten-feet tall, and some books, he's 35-feet tall. So it's the prerogative of an author when they're doing one book, and then creating other stories and then putting out other books, to make those changes. Tough to do when you're making a movie, and so we have to settle on one spot, and just as Walt described.

It’s taken a long time to bring Clifford to the big screen in a (mostly) live-action fashion, despite plans going back many years, and despite the successful TV series and previous animated film. Was it because nobody else knew the perfect way to crack the Clifford size code? Perhaps. Or maybe the world just wasn't ready for that red fur yet. Whatever the case may be, find the biggest thing you can substitute as a dog collar and check out the trailer below!

With early screenings happening on the evening of Tuesday, November 9, Clifford the Big Red Dog will release wide in theaters on Wednesday, November 10, and will also be available to stream on Paramount+ for those who aren't afraid of Clifford breaking through the sides of their TVs.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.