Garfield: The Movie

Robin Clifford
Robin Clifford 
Garfield: The Movie
Laura Clifford
Laura Clifford 
Hundreds of millions of people around the world have laughed at the droll comic antics of the pudgy, lasagna-loving, orange tabby whose mission in life is to eat and sleep and sleep and eat. The egocentric feline makes the leap from the comics to the silver screen, trading pen and ink for high tech CGI, in “Garfield: the Movie.”

I guess the feature film debut of the comic paper golden boy, I mean cat, Garfield, was inevitable. The only question I have is: why did it take so long? Not that I’m a particular fan of Garfield but it seems that the popularity of the comic strip would make it ideal fodder for kids’ entertainment.

What we get, from director Peter Hewitt (“The Borrowers”), is a straightforward adaptation of Jon Davis’s popular feline character’s antics that combines pretty slick CGI with live action. Garfield (voice of Bill Murray) is living the life of Reilly as he takes care of his owner, Jon (Breckin Meyer), making sure that his human keep a ready stockpile of Garfield’s favorite food, lasagna, on hand. When Jon takes his pet to the vets yet again, Garfield figures out why when he sees his master get all ga-ga over pretty animal doctor, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt).

Shy Jon is about to ask Liz on a date when she asks him to do something for her – adopt a perky little pup named Odie. Of course, Jon can’t resist those big brown eyes (Liz’s, not Odie’s) and takes the little dog home – much to Garfield’s chagrin. Suddenly, the self-centered cat not only must share his home, he must also vie for the affection and attention of Jon. And, cute little Odie seems to have the upper paw in the household. Grudgingly, Garfield’s resistance to Odie diminishes, especially when he learns that the puppy can dance!

Jon and Liz take Odie on their first date to a local dog show and Garfield clandestinely tags along. Of course, when the feline lands among a whole bunch of canines, things get dicey. The dogs take chase after Garfield and the chaos nearly ruins the show – until Odie leaps to center stage when the music starts. His amazing performance is seen by Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowski), a low rent variety show entertainer on regional cable who sees Odie as his ticket to the big time. Jon, as expected, turns down Happy’s offer to buy Odie.

Garfield is upset by all the attention Odie gets and, when a minor mishap caused by the G-cat wreaks major destruction on Jon’s home, he is in the doghouse, so to speak, and Odie becomes the number one pet. Garfield dupes the pup out of the house one night and the little dog runs away. He is taken in by a kind old lady who puts up “puppy found” posters around town. Meanwhile, Jon does the same thing, offering a reward for Odie’s safe return. Fortune smiles on Happy Chapman, who spots the old lady’s flyers and convinces her that he is Odie’s rightful owner. Once the malicious entertainer has the dancing puppy, he hatches a nefarious scheme to use a high voltage shock collar on the little dog to make him perform at will.

Garfield, guilty over Odie’s disappearance, sets off on his own to find the missing puppy. It becomes a race against the clock as our feline hero must overcome enormous odds to save Odie before Chapman can spirit him off to New York on the Amsterdam Express train. Garfield must use every bit of his wits (and a helping of lasagna) to save the day.

“Garfield: the Movie” will do well with younger audiences as the sassy cat amply displays his irreverence for any and all things that get in the way of his day-to-day pleasures. The CGI effects and the well-chosen voice of Bill Murray give full dimension to Garfield and should prove a popular diversion for the kids. There is too much of the cartoon strip, with simplistically drawn human characters, to have much appeal for the adult viewers. There are also too few jokes afforded to the adults that would make this more appealing as family fare.

This is, of course, Garfield’s movie so don’t expect much from the human player. Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt are suitable as Jon and Liz, but the humans just play second banana to the CGI star. Stephen Tobolowsky is more a not-very-nice-man than a bad guy, except for the out of place torturing of poor Odie. Overshadowing the human players are the computer enhanced critters that come to Garfield’s aid. Nick Cannon gives voice to Louis, a little brown field mouse and Garfield’s friend who comes to the cat’s aid when most needed. Alan Cummings provides stiff upper lip dignity to Persnickety, the performing cat that Happy unceremoniously sends to the pound when Odie comes on the scene. Brad Garret, Debra Messing and others give good voice to the animal players in “Garfield.” Odie is a cute little dog, too.

The kids will be there to see Garfield and the special F/X team, led by Alan E. Lorimer, do a mostly seamless job in integrating CGI and live action together. Only at one point, when one of the pound workers picks up Garfield, does the effect fail to convince. Otherwise, the computer-generated feline looks good.

More adult oriented humor would have helped broaden the appeal of “Garfield: the Movie” beyond its youthful target audience. Parents will be marking the film’s run time instead of being entertained, though.

“Garfield” is being released with a short cartoon featuring Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel from “Ice Age,” called “Gone Nutty” that is an entertaining diversion an homage to the little critter’s acorns.

I give “Garfield: the Movie” a C+.

Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer, "Kate and Leopold") keeps bringing his pampered cat to the vet because he has a long held crush on beautiful veterinarian Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt, "The Tuxedo"). Liz has also been hiding feelings and endeavors to get closer by presenting Jon with a delightful little puppy who needs a home, Odie.  Odie will prove the downfall and redemption of Jon's jealous, disgruntled feline in "Garfield: The Movie."

Bill Murray's ("Lost in Translation") sardonic drawl is the perfect voice for Jim Davis' long running comic strip creation, but his wit is not matched by screenwriters Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow ("Toy Story"), who strain milking laughs from pop cultural references and the repetitive observations of Davis himself.  As directed by Pete Hewitt ("The Borrowers"), "Garfield: the Movie" begins lamely, then bubbles into an action-packed midsection before winding down into a cliche driven conclusion.

After Garfield is established as the top cat of the neighborhood by using buddy Nermal (David Eigenberg, HBO's "Sex and the City")  to gorge his gullet with milk and tricking Luca the Doberman (Brad Garrett, TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond") into tangling his chain, he's toppled low by Jon's preferential treatment of Odie.  Tossed outside for the night while Odie sleeps on Jon's bed, Garfield is touched when Odie comes out to join him - but only for a moment.  The self-centered cat leaves the puppy outside and takes the opportunity to return to his stuffed bear Pooky back in his own bed inside the house.  His odious behavior is witnessed by Nermal and Arlene (Debra Messing, TV's "Will and Grace"), who smartly observe that dogs run away.  Odie follows the first passing vehicle and is soon lost in the big city.  Local celebrity Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky, "Memento") sees Odie's lost poster and, remembering the puppy's talented 'dancing' at a recent dog show, poses as his owner in order to hit the big time in New York.  Garfield spies Odie on TV, but can't alert the distraught Jon quickly enough, so he must shore up his courage to leave the safety of his cul de sac to save the day.

The human characters are expectedly one-dimensional.  Myer has the naivety and social ineptness of Jon Arbuckle without the loser quality mocked by Garfield in the strip.  Also unlike the strip is Love Hewitt's reciprocal crush and the actress marches out her crinkly smile as encouragement.  Dependable character actor Tobolowsky fails to add any inventiveness to a stock villain, even given the chance to also play his more successful brother, news commentator Walter J. Chapman.  Murray's lazy readings match the fat cat's demeanor, but even he can't get a laugh with ill-fitted punch lines like "Got milk?" or "I love the smell of cinnamon apple in the morning."  Alan Cummings ("X2") is fun as Chapman's discarded cat Persnickitty and Nick Cannon ("Drumline") gives cute personality to Garfield's diminutive mouse buddy, Louis.

Garfield is a total CGI creation paired with real animals (with the exception of the non-speaking Odie, the other cats, dogs and rodents have CG enhanced mouth movements) and real humans within the fakery of a studio backlot.  Director of photography Dean Cundey ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), the special effects team and animal trainer Larry Madrid ("102 Dalmatians") combine these elements seamlessly in many technically challenging scenes (watch the CGI Garfield repeatedly 'push' real dachshund/cairn terrier mix Odie off his chair and then really think about what you are seeing).

With the exception of Jon's luck in the romance department and a recurring use of spiders, all the elements of the strip, such as Garfield's love of lasagna and use of brains over brawn, appear in the movie.  Cliches, such as a scene in a pound whose inhabitants are sure to be liberated, abound.  Product placement for Wendy's, Iams and especially Petco is obvious.

"Garfield: The Movie" should please the kiddies, but there is less content to please adults - the film's funniest line is "Jon, Odie's on TV and he's wearing lederhosen!".  It is superior to 2001's similar "Cats & Dogs" while falling short of the "Stuart Little" flicks.  More pleasing than the feature is the short spun off from "Ice Age" which precedes it - Scrat in "Gone Nutty" may follow the usual Wile E. Coyote formula, but it's a delightful little trifle with visual wit.

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