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Let Garfield Be Garfield!

by on June 13, 2004

When I was a kid, one of my favorite cartoons was Garfield and Friends. So when I heard they were going to make a feature movie, I cheered. Then I found out it was going to be live-action–time to go into cringe-mode. Then I heard that Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, would be overseeing the movie. My confidence grew, but then it promptly sank when I saw the trailer. Well, I thought to myself, that’s just the trailer. I’m sure the movie will be better.

Dang. I should’ve remembered that the trailers usually contain the best parts.

Anyway, the film starts in familiar territory with a scene that should make most of the comic-strip fans happy: Garfield jumps onto Jon’s bed so he’ll make breakfast, and then does the classic food switch. Unfortunately, that’s the last of the old Garfield fans will see.

Oh, sure, the film’s plot is very familiar: Jon visits Liz, the vet, whom he has a crush on, and then adopts a dog, Odie. Naturally, Garfield resents all the attention Odie gets and locks the poor dog outside, causing him to run away. Garfield then realizes that he misses the pup and sets out after him. This story, in case you’re not aware of it, is almost a carbon copy of Here Comes Garfield, the fat cat’s first TV special–which, by the way, is about a hundred times better than this pile of trash. There are some funny parts in the movie–Odie chases any car that comes his way, and Garfield pays tribute to all the songs in the TV series and specials by singing a sad song in the middle of the movie. But that’s not enough to lift the material above what it basically is: a cold and uninspired rehash.

Of course, even the worse and most clichéd plot can be forgiven if the characters are done right. So let’s see how faithful the movie is to the old, familiar characters:

* Garfield: Well, he does eat a lot, and Bill Murray does a pretty good job filling in for the late Lorenzo Music. But Garfield is supposed to be lazy, and, hoo boy, this Garfield isn’t lazy. All through the film he’s climbing on roofs, running after cars, dancing with Odie–in fact, he dances every chance he gets. The famous comic image of Garfield slouched in a chair watching television: Gone. And now he actually likes being taken to the vet and smiles the entire time he’s there. I know CGI is more fluid by nature–and the CGI work is very good in Garfield–but they could and should have made him the lazy cat we all know.

* Odie: They kept his constant tail- and car-chasing. But he’s played by a real dog, and this dog doesn’t slobber nearly as much as Odie should. And why not make him a CGI character, as they did with Garfield? Without that, we don’t get the kind of interaction that the two characters have in the strip and animated cartoons.

* Jon: For the most part, he’s decently portrayed by Breckin Meyer; though he’s not quite as pathetic as Jon is in the comic, he is just as excitable. But what happened to Jon’s minimally furnished house? In the film, it’s cluttered up the wazoo with collectibles and antiques, for no other purpose that I can see except so they can have the standard “destroy everything accidentally in a chain reaction” gag.

*Liz: In the comic strip, Liz is weathered, sarcastic, and barely interested in Jon. In the film, she’s the typical sweetheart-type and has a crush on Jon. I mean, for the love of Mikey …

* Nermal: Butchered, butchered, butchered! Gone is the smart little kitten who prances about brightly boasting about how cute he is. Now, Nermal is Garfield’s dim-bulb Siamese sidekick who never refers to his cuteness. The only thing the cartoon and film cats have in common is their name.

Why did this movie get made in the first place? Did Davis want to refresh the franchise? Then he should have made a fully-animated feature with Garfield the way he was meant to be. But this film eliminates the things that made Garfield special; now he just seems like another Heathcliff–you know, that other striped orange cat.

Garfield-purists can at least take some comfort in the fact that the good Garfield–the specials and specials— will start being released on DVD this summer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go flense my brain of all the stupidity it picked up from watching the movie.

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