Clifford the Big Red Dog and Missing an Opportunity to Promote Fatherhood

Over Veteran’s Day weekend, I enjoyed watching Clifford the Big Red Dog with our children. The movie was creative and family friendly. My wife and I have enjoyed reading the Clifford books to our kids for years. While it was overall a good film, I came away disappointed that the filmmakers missed a powerful opportunity to promote fatherhood and the traditional family.

In the Clifford books, Emily Elizabeth enjoys a loving family with a kind mom and dad. However, in the Clifford movie, Emily Elizabeth has a loving mother but there’s no mention of her father. The movie never offers any father backstory. While Emily’s uncle, Casey, is portrayed as a well-meaning and sympathetic character, he is living in a truck and irresponsible. He also casually lies to avoid confrontation. I do appreciate how Casey grows throughout the movie, but I still feel like the Clifford filmmakers could have portrayed a healthy father figure.

Over dinner after the movie, Bethany asked our kids what they noticed that was different between the Clifford movie and books. The first thing our five year old son said was Emily’s uncle instead of her father. Even young kids know the integral role fathers play in families.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Fatherhood must be the core of the universe.” It’s a powerful statement, and, if Christianity is true, then the statement is also. Glenn Stanton explained the importance of Fatherhood and why “father wounds” are so impactful:

Satan despises and seeks to pervert and destroy—-every day, every moment, everywhere in the world—-that which God is. As such, he sets himself against the God-like, life-giving nature of mothers (see Genesis 4:1) through the human evil and pain of abortion. But he also loathes our fathers and those of us who are fathers. He recognizes fatherhood’s power. He recognizes each earthly father’s iconic nature. He realizes the pain it causes God and his image-bearing creatures when fatherhood is corrupted. And this delights our mortal enemy.

The consequences of fatherlessness are tragic. According to the US Census Bureau, “Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.”

Loving fathers point us to the ultimate and perfectly loving Heavenly Father. If the movie writers wanted to promote healthy fatherhood and still not derail the overall storyline, then they could have had pulled it off. Emily Elizabeth’s father could have been a service member selflessly serving his family and country on a deployment. I don’t really expect anything positive and healthy from Hollywood. But with the enormous toll fatherlessness takes on families, it would have been nice to see a portrayal of a loving and responsible fatherhood get a head nod.

Check out the Plugged In movie review of Clifford here.

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