There's a lot to be said about the popularity of Garfield, the tubby orange cat who's appeared in newspapers worldwide since June of 1978. At the time, the strip was a unique concept and deserving of its time in the spotlight. Of course, the level of success Garfield has achieved over the years has been phenomenal: creator Jim Davis has built nothing short of an empire based around the character, and it doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Whether that's good or bad is a matter of opinion.
For those unfamiliar with the comic strip (both of you), the cast of characters is fairly simple: Garfield, the fat feline himself, takes pride in being lazy, causing trouble, and eating everything in sight. Odie the dog is a sidekick of sorts: loveable, cheerful, and dumb as a post. Jon is the owner of the two pets, and leads a pathetically dull life; in short, the majority of his Friday nights are spent organizing his sock drawer. Unfortunately, these characters haven't changed much at all since the strip's creation.
Because of this, there are many who say that Garfield is well past his prime…and they're entirely correct, in my opinion. His 25th "birthday" has come and gone, and yet the comic strip still appears daily. It's degenerated from a once-unique concept into a watered-down parody of itself---a one-trick pony, if you will (the upcoming movie doesn't look too promising either, but I'll save that rant for another day). Still, despite the lack of real effort in recent years, Garfield remains a highly popular and recognizable icon of the cartoon world.
From 1982-1991, Garfield made his biggest splash on the small screen: roughly 11 half-hour TV specials were produced (in addition to the long-running Garfield & Friends animated series), and chances are you've seen most of them. Of course, most fans will immediately think of the classic holiday specials (Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985), A Garfield Christmas (1987), and Garfield's Thanksgiving (1989)), as they've undoubtedly received the most airplay.
This new DVD compilation, Garfield as Himself, features three classic 30-minute non-holiday specials, including Here Comes Garfield (1982), Garfield on the Town (1983), and Garfield Gets a Life (1991). While the inclusion of the first two makes sense, it's strange that the last special would be included in this volume instead of the third (Garfield in the Rough, from 1984). It would have been nice to see the gradual evolution of these TV specials over the years, but I'll be glad if they're eventually released in any order. With any luck, we'll get a Holiday collection sometime down the road, but Garfield as Himself makes for a decent appetizer until then.
Overall, I found this short collection to be quite enjoyable. There's a daring dog pound rescue, a long-lost family reunion, musical performances by B.B. King and the Temptations, and more gluttony than a dozen Thanksgiving dinners! The voices actors will also be very familiar to long-time fans, including Lorenzo Music as Garfield (who sadly passed away in 2001), and Thom Huge as Jon (although Here Comes Garfield features Sandy Kenyon as the character). Another notable voice is that of the legendary June Foray as Jon's love interest in Garfield Gets a Life---Foray has lent her voice to hundreds of animated shows and movies, including Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Smurfs, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. With a talented voice cast and a likeable cast of characters, it's easy to see why these TV specials were so successful (as well as the long-running Garfield and Friends animated series, which aired from 1988-1994).
While Garfield may be a character that should have retired years ago, Garfield as Himself is a nice look back at the cartoon many kids grew up with, and these specials are classics in their own right. While they really show their age at times---and, like the strips, are something of a one-trick pony---this short collection makes for an interesting little slice of cartoon history. The DVD comes to us courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment, and it serves up a decent technical presentation of these three specials. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. Read on for more:
Quality Control Department
Presented in their original TV-friendly 1.33:1 aspect ratios, these three specials look pretty good. The first two cartoons were the best overall, featuring bold colors, sharp blacks, and an extremely small amount of dirt and grain. Unfortunately, Garfield Gets a Life (seen above) is notably less pristine, which is quite surprising given the episode's younger age. Although the artwork and animation are more refined than the first two specials, the sharpness and clarity just isn't as evident (still, this could be due to the source material). Thankfully, this isn't an issue for long, as the image gradually improves as the show progresses. Despite these concerns over the third episode, this is still a terrific visual presentation by Fox.
These specials are presented in their original Mono, and sound decent for their age. While the music sounds a little flat, dialogue comes through nicely and never fights for attention. While the overall quality isn't anything to write home about, it's a perfectly acceptable presentation that gets the job done. By the way, you might want to set your receiver to 'Stereo' for this one: while it won't add a great deal to the overall audio presentation, it certainly makes for a wider and fuller soundstage.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Unfortunately, the menu designs weren't really anything special (i.e. static with no background music), and could have used more attention. The episode presentation is a little awkward, but a "Play All" option is included for your convenience. Each of these three 23-minute episodes is divided into roughly 4 chapters, and no layer change was detected (this appeared to be a single-layer disc). The packaging was not on hand for this screener copy.
Another major disappointment was a total lack of bonus materials. I realize this DVD release was designed to generate interest in the upcoming movie, but nothing more than a 3-minute Inside Look is pretty weak. I'd have loved to hear an audio commentary by Jim Davis (or at least an interview!), or even some early Art Galleries or other promotional material. While it's nice to have three vintage TV specials on DVD, the lack of extras really lessens the overall impact of these classic cartoons.
As a "movie-only" disc, Garfield as Himself isn't a bad deal: it features a few nicely-restored classic TV specials for a modest price. Still, I can't help but be severely disappointed about the lack of bonus materials, and that really takes this release down a few notches. Normally, this problem---combined with the shameless movie promotion factor---would really keep me from recommending any disc, but Garfield as Himself is a pleasant collection of cartoons that any respectable fan of animation should check out. Despite its relatively short running time, consider this disc Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.