Garfield: The Movie Review
By Shawn McKenzie 07/26/2004
I now know what the comic book geeks complain about when an adaptation of one of their favorite characters is messed up on the big screen. I grew up reading the Garfield comic strip, which included collecting all of the compilation books and watching the CBS specials and the Saturday morning cartoon. I was very happy to hear that they were making a movie about my favorite orange Tabby, but Garfield: The Movie is a severe disappointment for a longtime fan.
Garfield (voice of Bill Murray) is a fat, lazy housecat who lives the easy life with his owner, Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer.) All he cares about is watching TV, eating lasagna (or anything junk food-like, but mainly lasagna), and caring for his stuffed teddy bear Pooky. When not lounging around the house, he is torturing the neighbor cat Nermal (voice of David Eigenberg) by tricking him into stealing the neighbor’s milk for him. He also has fun tricking a Doberman named Luca (voice of Brad Garrett) and messing with his occasional girlfriend cat Arlene (voice of Debra Messing.) Jon isn’t too demanding of an owner, and only expects him to chase mice, which Garfield doesn’t even do exactly, because he just pretends to chase and eat his mouse friend Louis (voice of Nick Cannon.) The cat’s perfect life is turned upside-down when, because of his attraction to an old high school friend named Liz Wilson (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a local veterinarian, Jon accepts ownership from her a little Jack Russell Terrier named Odie. The dog doesn’t talk, and is really stupid, but is playful and lovable, so of course Garfield hates him. He gets really jealous when Odie wins first prize at a dog show judged by Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a local TV host for channel 37’s “Good Day NY.” One day, Garfield accidentally makes a big mess of the house, and Jon locks him out for the night. Nice dog Odie joins him outside, where the selfish Tabby promptly locks him out. The brainless dog then follows a car and gets lost, eventually ending up at the house of an old lady named Mrs. Baker (Eve Brent.) Mrs. Baker posts about a lost dog and recognizes the dog as the one who won the dog show. Happy wants a new gimmick to replace his current show cat, Persnikitty, a.k.a. Sir Roland (voice of Alan Cumming), and possibly show up his more successful news commentator twin brother, Walter J. Chapman (also played by Tobolowsky), so he goes to Mrs. Baker’s house claiming to be the owner. After seeing how badly Odie’s disappearance affects Jon, and having his own tinge of guilt, he decides to leave the safety of his cul-de-sac and rescue the dog (he sees Odie on TV and finds the location of the station on the back of a box of the show’s sponsor, Kibbly Kat cat food.) Jon’s happiness is now dependent on Garfield’s ability to get over his laziness.
Garfield, created by Jim Davis, first appeared in 1978 and is still running to this day in newspapers all over. He made the leap to television in 1982 with an animated special called “Here Comes Garfield,” the first of twelve specials that appeared on CBS for several years. The title character in all of the specials and the Saturday morning cartoon series (1988-1994) were voiced by Lorenzo Music, who was known by our parents as the voice of Carlton the Doorman on the ‘70s TV show “Rhoda.” This movie makes things full circle, because Music also voiced the character of Peter Venkman in the ‘80s cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters” (the word “real” was added because the studio Filmation owned the rights to the word “Ghostbusters” and used it to cash in on the hit 1984 film with their own very lame cartoon.) If you are playing along at home, you know that Murray played Venkman in Ghostbusters, so casting him as the voice of Garfield was perfect (Music died in 2001 of lung and bone cancer.) Unfortunately, Murray’s performance as Garfield is the only good thing I can say about this adaptation.
They got everything else wrong, from the origins of the characters to the way they were presented. First off, Liz did not give Odie to Jon; in the strip, he acquired the dog from his former roommate Lyman, a creepy-looking dude with a bushy mustache that covered his mouth. Lyman disappeared one day and left Odie behind. Second, Liz did not harbor a secret crush on Jon the way he did for her; in the strip, they dated on and off, but she mostly treated him like dirt. Then there was the appearance of all of the supporting characters. Garfield was the only fully CGI character and all of the other animals were real with CGI mouths (a la Babe.) Remember the wide-eyed, big-tongued, floppy-eared mutt that we all know and love in Odie? The dog in this movie doesn’t look anything like him. Remember Nermal as the “World’s Cutest Kitten” that always flaunted his cuteness in Garfield’s face? Nermal is neither cute…or a kitten! Also, Arlene is not pink or wearing lipstick! I honestly think that they should have made all of the animals fully CGI, or at least do a better job of making the real animals look like the cats and dogs we know and love. If they opt for the latter, then they should include Garfield in that mix, because having one character be fully CGI and the others not is distracting. The humans do an okay job in their roles, but since the strip was never really about the humans, that wasn’t hard.
Garfield: The Movie will definitely appeal to little kids who didn’t grow up during the prime years of the comic strip, but it will be a heartbreak to older fans who did. If they had followed the original story and made the characters look like the original ones, I think that older fans would have enjoyed it as well. I can’t believe that Davis, who has a cameo as a drunken conventioneer, signed off on this movie. I hope that they treat the Peanuts gang better if they ever make a movie of that strip (of course Charles Schulz isn’t around to object!)
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