A Bounding Dog and a Bungled Burglary
As proven by 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' and 'Home Sweet Home Alone,' screen adaptations are rarely a sure thing.
Current Cinema: Making a simultaneous release in theaters and on streaming, Clifford the Big Red Dog is the latest screen adaptation of Norman Bridwell's long-running children's book series, first published in 1963.
A direct-to-video series was produced in the glory days of videocassettes (i.e. the 1980s), followed by an animated series for PBS starting in 2000, featuring the voice of John Ritter as the titular dog, followed by an animated film that was released in theaters in 2004, followed by yet another new series released in 2019.
Given the childishly adorable premise of the books -- the adventures of a young girl and her unaccountably gigantic dog -- animation would appear to be its natural and most fitting form on the big screen. Technology and its promises inspired Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment to begin development on a live-action/CGI adaptation in 2012, and in 2014, it progressed to the point of announcing a release date in 2016. Creative differences led to the project heading to Paramount Pictures and after some delays the decision was made to release the film in both theaters and on Paramount's streaming service on the same day.
First seen as an unaccountably bright red puppy who gets left behind when his mother and siblings are carried away to a dog pound, everything changes when he is discovered by the mysterious Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese) -- the name no doubt a tribute to the original book's author -- who runs an animal rescue tent at a park in Manhattan. There he comes to the attention of 12-year-old Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp), who instantly falls in love.
Recently arrived in NYC, Emily Elizabeth lives in an incredibly large, rent-controlled Manhattan apartment that her paralegal mother Maggie (Sienna Guillory) inherited, which immediately signals to adults that this is a fantasy, as if an animated puppy was not sufficiently convincing. Going along with the fantasy, Emily Elizabeth attends a private school -- how much do paralegals get paid in Manhattan? -- where she is bullied by her peers. Adding to her young blues, Maggie must go out of town for a few days due to her work responsibilities, and she is left with no other options than to call on her irresponsible younger brother Casey (Jack Whitehall) -- homeless and living in a moving van on the streets of Manhattan! -- to look after Emily Elizabeth, much to her chagrin. (Shades of Uncle Buck spring to mind.)
The puppy ends up coming home with Emily Elizabeth, gets named Clifford, then sprouts wings and flies away -- no, wait, that's another fantasy movie. Overnight, the puppy grows up into a very big dog, to Emily Elizabeth's delight and Casey's befuddlement. When Clifford goes bounding through Central Park, his antics are captured on video, which in turn captures the attention of biotech company owner Zack Tiernan (Tony Hale), who functions as the antagonist in his greedy attempts to claim Clifford as his own.
It's all very silly, though I can readily relate to the idea of a young person who falls in love with an animal, especially a big, loving and affectionate dog. The mixture of live action and CGI animation still shows all the seams, though, which can be distracting. And the character of Uncle Casey makes him out to be Life's Punching Bag; he's friendly and well-meaning, but, in general, does not give uncles a good name.
Quibbles aside, Clifford the Big Red Dog kept my attention on the smaller screen of a streaming service and moves at a good comic pace. [Paramount Plus]
Making its direct-to-streaming debut, Home Sweet Home Alone is the latest addition to the Home Alone franchise. (I didn't even realize it was a franchise.)
Written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, Home Alone starred the adorable Macauley Culkin as Kevin, the youngest member of a large Midwestern family heading to France for the holidays, who gets accidently left behind, delights in his newfound solitude, and successfully defends the family homestead from two bungling burglars (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) by using homemade booby traps. The enormous financial success of the film at the box office in 1990 has inspired five (?!) sequels over the decades.
I've not seen any of the sequels until Home Sweet Home Alone, but its dismal attempt to adapt the scenario for modern times makes it very difficult to recommend further investigation.
To be fair, I was not a particularly big fan of Home Alone but could see its appeal. (Deadly Games, made shortly before Home Alone, though released later, was a much better execution of the premise.) Even so, Macauley Culkin was undeniably cute, and he was a winning character battling burglars with malicious intent.
Home Sweet Home Alone makes its child protagonist, Max Mercer, a rude brat who gets left behind when his large extended family heads to Japan for a holiday vacation. He's a much less empathetic character, to my mind, and so when it's strongly suggested that he is the one who stole a valuable doll from another family, who are struggling financially, my interest level plummeted.
Rob Kemper and Elle Kemper, two likable actors, play Jeff and Pam, the parents of the other family, who are desperate about having to sell their family home while Jeff is out of work, and thus decide to break into the Mercer household in order to steal back the valuable doll, which will solve all their financial worries. Much physical slapstick ensues, as they are pummeled repeatedly -- and, supposedly, hilariously, which is the effect the filmmakers clearly intend -- but the humor was lost on me; I was hate-watching by that point.
Because Jeff and Pam are characters who are understandably desperate, and recognize that what they are doing is not morally defensible, they are eminently relatable, so it seems that the young, far less relatable Max is simply being downright mean to them. He has overheard and misunderstood their intentions, and so that is meant to justify his actions.
Everything gets cleared up at the end, of course. But I can't find anything to recommend about the film for adults. [Disney Plus]