Parents and kids will find a lot to like in this charming film adaptation of Jim Davis's cross-generational comic strip. The cinema version of Garfield remains true to his lazy, fat-cat persona, lounging around the house, eating lasagna and generally slacking off. The physical comedy of the lethargic feline is faithfully transferred to the screen, with the overweight Garfield squeezing through openings and taking long breaks when he has to walk more than fifty feet. Jon's house is Garfield's domain. The cul de sac is the ragged edge of his universe
Garfield: The Movie is something of a prequel in that we meet Odie for the first time. Garfield's owner, Jon (Breckin Meyer), has a huge crush on the veterinarian, Liz Wilson (Jennifer Love Hewett). When she asks him to adopt the slow-on-the-draw pup, he gladly agrees, much to Garfield's dismay. Garfield is aghast when, on the way home from the vet, he finds a dog in his car seat. This must be a mistake! When they arrive home, Garfield uses poor Odie as a straight man for endless put-downs and jokes. While Garfield reclines on the chair, musing about this new pretender to the throne, we see the intellectually challenged Odie chasing his tail.
Writers Jim Davis, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow have captured the essence of the Garfield comic strip and distilled it into a movie. While some adaptations of comic characters end up scaring the children or offending the parents, Davis, Cohen and Sokolow have chosen to retain the charm and gentle wit of the strip. There is nothing in Garfield: The Movie to cause parents to shudder. Like the best comics, Garfield reaches across generations, and the film version does too. Those old enough to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle will recall laughing at the physical humor while Dad chuckled over puns and allusions that the kids didn't get. Garfield: The Movie is not terribly sophisticated, but there is enough to keep parents from squirming in their seats with boredom.
The central theme is an appropriate one for young families: sibling rivalry when the new baby comes home from the hospital. In this case it's the pet hospital. Garfield, like a pampered first son, has carved out a comfortable niche with Jon, who feeds him and provides for his every need. Enter Odie, and the whole family dynamic changes forever. Where Garfield is smug and satisfied, Odie, like a new baby, is oblivious to everything, including Garfield's resentful teasing. Those of us who were firstborns will recall conducting various behavioral experiments on our new rivals: "Will he eat this?" But like the jealous poutings of human older siblings, Garfield's tormenting of Odie is done out of vulnerability rather than cruelty.
Because this is a movie and not a comic strip, a narrative with a resolvable conflict was needed. A sleazy television host kidnaps poor Odie to be a prop in his new TV show. Odie is hauled from his comfortable Midwestern home to the big scary city of New York. Garfield finds that he misses Odie and sets out to save him. Traffic, flights of stairs and rats stand in his way, and while Garfield would prefer the lazy way out, he perseveres for Odie's sake.
Just as we eventually learn to enjoy and cherish our siblings, Garfield eventually comes to love and accept Odie into the family. Their adventures bond them just as our backyard adventures bonded us. But as with human families, a certain level of jealousy and hazing still remain.
Technically, Garfield: The Movie is a treat. Garfield's cat pals Nermal and Arlene show up as live cats with computer generated mouths. Some of the talking cat commercials on television are so weird and over-emphasized that they look downright creepy; they've been known to frighten little children. Nermal and Arlene speak softly, as real cats might if they had voices. Luca, the big dog on the chain is a scary looking Doberman, but he never snarls or looks like he's about to rip anyone apart. Kids will see him as the Big Dog, but in a humorous, not a terrifying way.
The filmmakers use the computer imagery sparingly. Garfield is the only animatron in the movie, which accentuates his stardom. He's also the only orange object in the movie. The filmmakers considered using a real cat to play Garfield, but to find one who was orange, fat and a great actor was difficult. Cats are notoriously difficult to film. Dogs like to please people and will do tricks for Kibbles. Cats, on the other hand, like to remain completely aloof. The world must come to them. The wranglers (trainers) were able to use the real cats that play Nermal and Arlene in the stunts, but they had trouble getting them to sit still and stare. They just got bored and wandered off. Anyone who has tried to get a cat to do anything, including eat, knows about this.
Tyler, the dog who plays Odie, did not need special effects. His repertoire of tricks includes being able to hop on his hind legs and twirl like a mad polka king. He can look confused, happy or sad. By relying on flesh-and-blood animals wherever possible, the filmmakers have made the movie comfortably familiar to lovers of the simply-drawn comic strip. It doesn't come across as an overproduced computer game, but as a movie about characters we love.
Finding a voice for Garfield was tricky. He had to be lively and engaging, jaded and world-wise, a bit nave and fundamentally vulnerable. Bill Murray is a natural. Murray's character in the recent Lost in Translation is a lot like Garfield: He's a pampered star taken out of his comfortable existence and dropped into an unfamiliar world. Murray is reserved and nuanced as the voice of Garfield. He's not Bill Murray the big-time movie star; he's a big fat cat.
Garfield: The Movie is geared toward kids, but lovers of the comic strip will find it familiar and charming. People who love cats will see their own felines in Garfield. Parents who love neither Garfield nor cats will have a good time nonetheless.Discussion starters
- Why do older siblings get jealous when a new baby comes home from the hospital?
- What kinds of things make siblings bond to one another and learn to enjoy one another?
- Why do some people enjoy dogs, who like to please people, while others like cats, who are so independent as to be downright snobs?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Garfield: The Movie is rated PG, although it might easily have been rated G. There's nothing to offend sensitive parents and nothing to scare most children.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Foxcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 06/17/04
Jim Davis' Garfield comic strip has entertained people in daily newspapers for decades. But there's a big difference between a three-panel comic strip and a full-length feature film. Critics are saying that this feline probably should have stayed on the funny pages.
Family media watchdogs agree that this lazy self-absorbed cartoon character feline and his slobbering sidekick Odie are funny enough on the big screen to be entertaining for kids and parents alike. But is there anything truly excellent and worthy of praise here? Those who give Garfield a passing grade seem merely relieved to find a movie that doesn't offend them; they don't have much to say about what it does do.
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The trailer leaves us with the strong and unmistakable impression that the film is going to be a boring, unfaithful, and unfunny bastardization of the popular comic strip. That's exactly what we get." He says the mix of live-action and animated characters "does not work. We are never drawn into this hybrid world, and are instead reminded as to how false and forced it is."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Despite some funny moments … [director Peter] Hewitt coughs up a hairball." He describes the cat's antics as "staler than three-day-old Purina Cat Chow."
But Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Parents and kids will find a lot to like in this charming film adaptation. [The movie] is not terribly sophisticated, but there is enough to keep parents from squirming in their seats with boredom. There is nothing … to cause parents to shudder."
"Garfield: The Movie isn't bad," says Adam Holz (Plugged In). "But a three-panel comic does not an 85-minute movie make. The movie does a reasonably good job of capturing the spirit of [the] cartoon. But it would be a disservice not to say that its positive elements have been dealt with better in countless other movies."
Mainstream critics are rating it as one of the year's worst, inclined toward remarks about litter boxes and words like "cat-astrophe." Sean Axmaker (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) remarks, "This isn't a movie. It's a marketing ploy."
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