Garfield (2004) / Comedy-Family

MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 80 min.

Cast: Bill Murray (voice), Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Evan Arnold, Nick Cannon (voice), Alan Cumming (voice), Jimmy Kimmel (voice), Debra Messing (voice), Brad Garrett (voice)
Peter Hewitt
Screenplay: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow
Review published October 3, 2004

Jim Davis' popular, long-running comic strip comes to life in Garfield, although the creators of the film have taken liberties with the fat tabby's personality that had never been witnessed in the print version.  The cinematic Garfield is hyper, dancing and singing at every opportunity, and acting like an utter buffoon at almost all times.  The print version is lazy, sardonic, and dry-witted, and one wonders if the writers actually bothered reading the Garfield strip before writing the movie, or if they merely made a conscious decision that kids want to see an energetic, stupid and mischievous cat over a smart and incisive one that rarely moves.  Perhaps these writers are also not aware that we already had a mischievous and energetic cat film earlier in the year, the critically-lambasted Cat in the Hat.  Needless to say, this one fares little better.

The story kicks off when Garfield the cat's owner, Jon, brings home a pooch named Odie.  Being the new animal in the house, Odie is getting all of Jon's attention, which doesn't sit well with Garfield, who devises ways to get Odie in trouble that keep backfiring.  The worst comes when Odie is tricked out of the house, after which he proceeds to do what most dogs do when given freedom: run away from home.  He isn't gone long before he ends up in the hands of a wicked host of a local show on pets, who sees the dog as the next great talent for his struggling show.  Garfield grows a conscience about it, and decides he needs to save the dog from a life of abuse, so he also ventures out to rescue Jon's new pal. 

Garfield is voiced by Bill Murray (Coffee and Cigarettes, Lost in Translation), who envisions the cat not too differently than he did Nick, the lounge lizard character he made famous during his days on "Saturday Night Live" in the 70s.  He's full of bad jokes, schmoozy charm when he wants, and likes to entertain when possible, although there is a definite mean-spirited streak to him that makes him rather unlikable.  What's worse, Garfield is also not funny, and when a CGI cat voiced by a funny comedian gets upstaged by a real-life dog that jumps around a lot for laughs, you know something was very wrong at the conception level. 

The world of Garfield and his animal friends is rather confusing here.  All of the rest of the animals look real, while Garfield looks like a cartoon, but no distinction is made.  Also, some of the animals talk, while others (like Odie) behave like ordinary animals do.  Garfield also exhibits extreme humanistic movements, yet the humans don't seem to notice it at all.  There's no consistent pattern to make sense of this world that Garfield inhabits, so you just have to go with the flow of things.

Garfield has its moments, and features likeable performances by Breckin Meyer (Rat Race, Road Trip) as Jon, as well as Jennifer Love Hewitt (The Tuxedo, Heartbreakers) as Jon's would-be girlfriend, Liz.  Some of the other voiced animals are occasionally amusing, but it's still Odie that is top dog in the laughs department, mostly because they didn't muck with his looks or behavior as much as the other animals.

Although there is some humor in the pop culture references that are aimed at people of all ages, Garfield is probably only recommended for young children, who probably won't mind that the jokes aren't fresh and the situations aren't really teeming with good writing.  It's colorful, energetic and has talking animals, so kids will probably watch with rapt attention.  Meanwhile, there is just too little offered to anyone else, so unless you're stuck for eternity in a doorless, windowless room with just a TV, DVD player and a copy of this movie, I'd say there's really no reason to make the attempt.

-- Followed by Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo