Clifford (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Flaherty
Produced byLarry Brezner
Pieter Jan Brugge
Written byJay Dee Rock
"Bobby Von Hayes" (alias of Steven Kampmann)
Music byRichard Gibbs
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Edited byTim Board
Pembroke J. Herring
Morra, Brezner, Steinberg and Tenenbaum Entertainment
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • April 1, 1994 (1994-04-01)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$7.4 million[1]

Clifford is a 1994 American black comedy film directed by Paul Flaherty and starring Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen and Dabney Coleman.

The film was shot in 1990 and originally planned for release in the summer of 1991, but remained in limbo for several years due to Orion Pictures' bleak financial situation. It was not released until 1994, and was a critical and commercial failure. Despite this, the film has developed a cult following over the years.


At a Catholic school in 2050, a troublesome boy named Roger (Ben Savage) is running away after threatening to blow up the gym due to not being allowed to play on the basketball team – though he was accepted onto the team, his parents have strictly forbidden contact sports. He is stopped by Father Clifford Daniels (Martin Short), an old priest, who tries to persuade him to change his ways by telling him a story of his own youth, stating that "when we get frustrated, it can cause a lot of damage".

In the flashback, 10-year-old Clifford is an obnoxious and eccentric boy who never lets go of a toy dinosaur named Steffen, whom he talks to and blames for Clifford's own actions. His dream is to visit Dinosaur World, a theme park in California, but he is never considered, especially by his workaholic parents Julian (Richard Kind) and Theodora (Jennifer Savidge).

While flying with his parents to Honolulu on a business trip, Clifford intentionally causes the pilot to make an emergency landing in Los Angeles. Because Clifford is henceforth banned from flying, Julian scolds him as he can't attend the appointment but also can't abandon Clifford in the city without risking child abandonment charges. He phones his brother, Martin (Charles Grodin) — who resides in the city — to suggest that Clifford stay with him temporarily. While Clifford sees this as his opportunity to finally visit Dinosaur World, Martin thinks that this is the perfect opportunity to prove to his fiancée, Sarah Davis (Mary Steenburgen), how well he interacts with children. However, he has not seen Clifford since his baptism, and thus is completely unaware of Clifford's potential for hazardous antics.

Upon their reunion, Martin reveals to Clifford that he designed Larry the Scary Rex (a Dinosaur World attraction) and can get into the park free of charge, which only strengthens Clifford's obsession to visit. Martin promises to take him there, but is ultimately forced to break his promise the next day as his work requires that he redesign LA's public transit system - one of Martin's biggest dreams - in two days. Clifford even attempts to sneak away by posing as someone else's son, in a dinosaur costume, but he's caught by Martin. Disappointed, Martin tells Clifford that the Dinosaur World trip is off and sends him up to his room to think about everything he has done.

Clifford becomes enraged at Martin breaking his promise (especially after he discovers that while Martin can't spare time to take him to Dinosaur World, he can spare time for Sarah's parents' 35th wedding anniversary party), and thus starts working to sabotage Martin's life, jeopardizing his career and even his relationship with Sarah in the process. He compliments Martin's boss, Gerald Ellis (Dabney Coleman), on his toupee, humiliates Martin at the party by replacing his Bloody Mary drink with straight Tabasco sauce, ruining an unprepared toast that Martin is giving, and even switches his cocoa butter with lipstick, making a comedic scene. Clifford finally gets Martin arrested in front of Sarah's family after calling in a fake bomb threat in city hall, made out of mixing audios of Martin's scolding of Clifford with his answering machine.

As he's released on bail, Martin scolds Clifford again, but tries reasoning with him, trying to share Martin's own experiences of being denied his own visit to an old theme park before it was ultimately demolished. He tries getting Clifford to write a confession of the bomb incident, but Clifford misleads Martin in catching a train to San Francisco, where Sarah travels per Mr. Ellis' request (later revealed as an attempt by Ellis to try moving in on her), and Martin can't find him before the train departs. Smiling and back at Martin's home, Clifford throws a juvenile party in exchange for his trip to Dinosaur World. Martin gradually perceives Clifford as a threat, and when he returns home, he traps Clifford (who tries making a scene by pretending he's tied up) by boarding doors and windows. Clifford is released next morning by Sarah, who breaks up with Martin in disgust, taking Clifford with her. As Martin arrives late to Ellis's presentation of Martin's transit system, the Los Angeles city model explodes, costing Martin his job - the last of Clifford's antics.

Having had enough, Martin kidnaps Clifford and finally takes him to Dinosaur World after closing hours and makes him ride Larry the Scary Rex. After going through it once, Clifford seems to enjoy himself, so Martin increases the ride's speed repeatedly. When set to hyper speed, the ride malfunctions and Clifford's cart crashes, leaving him dangling above the jaws of the malfunctioning robotic dinosaur. He cries out for Martin to save him, but Martin hesitates — worried about the future of mankind if he saves Clifford and the fact that Clifford has ruined his life. Ultimately, Martin risks his own life and saves him instead. Clifford finally apologizes for his behavior, but Martin doesn't forgive him, telling Clifford he's not human, but a 'destructive thing eventually everyone just gets to hate'. Though it doesn't look like it, Clifford is heartbroken, and decides not to go home with Martin.

Back in the future, Father Clifford says that this experience made him turn his life around, telling Roger that "if you destroy everyone in the way of your dreams, you will end up alone, with no dreams at all." Eventually, Martin invited him to his and Sarah's wedding, finally forgiving him after Clifford sent over two hundred letters of apology.

Moved by the tale, Roger decides to not run away and instead write hundreds of letters, asking for forgiveness. Father Clifford then takes Steffen from his pocket saying, "Mission accomplished, old friend."


Critical reception[edit]

The film was critically panned. It currently holds a 13% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews (27 negative, 4 positive).[2] Roger Ebert gave the film a half-star of a possible four. He wrote: "The movie is so odd, it's almost worth seeing just because we'll never see anything like it again. I hope."[3] He and his colleague film critic Gene Siskel gave Clifford "Two thumbs down" on their television show with particular criticism towards Martin Short's casting as Clifford, Ebert stated that "Short looks so weird that there's never a moment where you can stop gawking at him long enough for the character to gather up any momentum". Siskel agreed stating that Martin Short "looks like a wizened little dwarf" and referring to his character as "very unhappy".[4]

Despite this broader negative reception, Clifford has since gained a reputation as a cult classic.[5][6]

Year-end lists[edit]


  1. ^ "Clifford". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  2. ^ Clifford at Rotten Tomatoes
  3. ^ Clifford Roger Ebert review
  4. ^
  5. ^ Rabin, Nathan. "You Know, For The Kids? Case File #20: Clifford". Film. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  6. ^ "'Clifford' for Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club: All hail the Martin Short classic. You heard me: classic!". Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  7. ^ P. Means, Sean (January 1, 1995). "'Pulp and Circumstance' After the Rise of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood Would Never Be the Same". The Salt Lake Tribune (Final ed.). p. E1.
  8. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  9. ^ Elliott, David (December 25, 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E=8.
  10. ^ Lovell, Glenn (December 25, 1994). "The Past Picture Show the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- a Year Worth's of Movie Memories". San Jose Mercury News (Morning Final ed.). p. 3.

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