Garfield (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If there was a single thought prominent in my mind as I watched Garfield: The Movie, it was "Why?" Not so much "why" I was there (although my decision to get up early on a Saturday morning to attend this screening might be a cause for concern), but "why" this film was committed to celluloid in the first place. Is Fox so desperate for family-friendly fare that they were willing to greenlight the transformation of a marginally witty comic strip character into a CGI abomination? Or are they seeking to have their own version of Howard the Duck? Either way, the result is a motion picture so ungainly and awful that only an under-8 child could appreciate it.

The story is simple enough for a toddler to follow. Garfield (whose voice is provided by Bill Murray), the smart-aleck cat with an appetite and an attitude, is stricken with an extreme case of jealousy when his human best-friend, Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer), adopts a dog named Odie (probably short for Odious). Garfield, eager to re-establish his turf and eject the interloper, causes Odie to run away. Then, overcome by guilt, he follows the canine to the big city to rescue him from Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a local TV personality who has dognapped Odie. Jon and his veterinarian girlfriend, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), are hot in pursuit.

It's harder to imagine a more second-rate production than what we are given with Garfield. The director is Peter Hewitt, whose career highlight is Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, but whose most recent outing was something called Thunderpants. The stars are a has-been, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a never-was, Breckin Meyer. And the title character is based on a comic strip that was hot about 15 years ago (the Emmy-winning animated TV series was made in 1988). For agreeing to do the voice of Garfield, Bill Murray must have been lost somewhere, if not necessarily in translation. (Although Murray is adequate to the task of delivering the cat's acerbic one-liners, Steven Wright probably would have been a better selection.)

Garfield: The Movie is a prime example of what happens when there's too little source material for a movie screenplay. To be sure, there are occasional moments of rare wit (perhaps as the result of lines lifted directly from Jim Davis' daily strips), but the production as a whole is several notches below uninspired, and in the same neighborhood as unnecessary. Four or five chuckles during 82 minutes is not an acceptable quotient, even for a children's film - especially since Garfield (the penciled character) is widely viewed as being smart and hip enough to attract an adult audience.

Then there's the questionable decision of how to render Garfield. Computer generated imaging (CGI) has been in fairly widespread use since Steven Spielberg employed it to bring dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park. In the past 11 years, CGI has undergone a series of improvements, yet, inexplicably, the work in Garfield looks like it was done circa 1993. It's often clunky and unconvincing, and frequently meshes imperfectly with the live action elements (watch when a human is supposedly carrying Garfield). Additionally, presumably to keep the cost down, Garfield is the only animal that is animated. The rest of the feline, canine, and rodent cast is comprised of real animals whose lips are manipulated to allow them to speak. This causes Garfield to stand out. (Although there are times when Jennifer Love Hewitt is stiff enough to make us wonder if she too is a computer representation.) The lesson here is not to go half-way - either animate all of the animals, or none of them. It might seem like a small thing, but it's strangely disconcerting - although perhaps not as disconcerting as the non-stop stream of product placements (Petco, Walmart, Amtrack, etc.).

One would think that filmmakers attempting to make a movie with a talking animal as the main character would take their inspiration from Babe, not Howard. And, for those who remain from the late-'80s throng of Garfield devotees, this does not represent the realization of a long-awaited dream. So little of Jim Davis' cat remains in this treacly screenplay that it's almost criminal. This a neutered Garfield, one part tomcat and three parts pussy, recognizable only by his orange coat and love of lasagna. This feline's got a serious case of mange.

Garfield (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2004-06-11
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1