Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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CLIFFORD'S FUN WITH SOUNDS (1988)

**

Directed by Kate Shepherd.
(Family Home Entertainment, color, 30 mins.)

CLIFFORD'S FUN WITH OPPOSITES (1988)

***

Directed by [??].
(Family Home Entertainment, color, 30 mins.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Clifford the Big Red Dog is about 25 feet tall, very friendly, utterly well-meaning, and sometimes slightly naive. With help from his mistress, a little girl named Emily Elizabeth, he's the hero of a popular series of educational books, and now of an educational video series as well. In Fun with Sounds, Clifford becomes a "star" in a Hollywood that would rather get sound effects from a dog who can make loud noises than from a tape library. In Fun with Opposites, a perverse parrot makes trouble at Emily Elizabeth's pet show.

As parents who enjoy sharing videos with our three-year-old (and are often forced to share them many, many times), we were dismayed by both on first screening. The animation is elementary and pleasureless, and the conceit of Fun with Sounds so stupid we worried it might distort our daughter's understanding of something she cares about--namely, movies. Unfortunately, our daughter disagreed, and so did her cousin, who's pushing six. "Very good, or just good?" we hinted. "Very good," the older girl firmly replied.

Well, to hell with that--over medium-many viewings, our daughter's good taste prevailed. She got sick of Fun with Sounds in record time, and after 10 or so runthroughs we could admit that Fun with Opposites wasn't so terrible--there's an unpreachy subtext about the limits of contrariness, the parrot earns a few laughs and sings a catchy song, and Emily Elizabeth's friends are not only multiracial (unlike those in Fun with Sounds) but show other lifelike traits. After another 10 or so exposures, however, we were forbidden to screen either Clifford video again. And when we brought out the accompanying instructional booklet--12 pages designed to teach parents how to draw lessons from all six Clifford videos--she remembered the Big Red Dog. But she still asked for Mickey.

Video Review, Dec. 1988