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Garfield: The Movie

Fox // PG // October 19, 2004
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Hey, remember when Garfield saturated every square inch of pop culture, with plush dolls suction-cupped to car windows, posters plastered across classrooms, animated specials peppering the airwaves, and comic strip compilations topping the bestsellers' lists? Lo, it was an idyllic time, one that men called "1986". Close to two decades after Garfield's popularity peaked, Fox has churned out this adaptation of Jim Davis' long-running strip for an audience that really didn't exactly seem to be waiting with bated breath. The paper-thin plot revolves around...hey! Garfield, a tabby that prides himself on both his laziness and his ability to effortlessly manipulate his doting owner Jon (Breckin Meyer). Garfield's life is as cushy and cozy as he could hope for, until...cue the ellipsis...Jon brings a dog home. See, Jon's had an unrelenting crush on Garfield's vet, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), that's lingered since high school, and he uses Garfield as an excuse to awkwardly spend more time around her. She mistakes that creepiness for a love of animals and asks Jon if she'll take a pup named Odie into his home. Everyone instantly starts doting over Odie, and in retaliation, an annoyed Garfield locks him outside one night. Whoops -- Odie mindlessly tears off and finds himself in the clutches of schlocky morning show host Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), who sees Odie as his chance to break into the big time in New York. Garfield clues into all of this, but since he can't exactly communicate that to Jon, he takes it upon himself to trek away from his comfortable cul-de-sac and rescue Odie.

Garfield is not a family movie. No, I'm not suggesting there's anything offensive or repulsive (not counting screenwriting as legendarily lazy as Garfield himself), but my definition of a family movie is just that -- a movie that everyone in a family can watch together and enjoy. The Pixar stable and The Iron Giant are family movies. Garfield is unmistakably a kids' movie, and if you're old enough to form a complete sentence or go to the bathroom unattended, you're not part of its target demographic. The basic story is unfailingly predictable and strains to fill its barely-feature-length runtime. Its idea of humor is having Garfield set up this elaborate Goldberg Machine-ish contraption that propels his hapless victim skyward and sends a stream of milk pouring into Garfield's mouth. He belches, mugs towards the screen, and then asks "Got milk?" I guess what baffles me is that it's not easy to get a movie made. Screenplays frequently go through countless revisions, everything has to be approved by a sprawling committee of studio suits, and presumably creator Jim Davis had to sign off on the script as well. I don't understand how a screenplay this bad can make it all the way through the production pipeline and apparently inspire enough confidence for a studio to fork over $60 million. There is literally not a single laugh in Garfield: The Movie. Not a giggle, not a smirk, not a chuckle, not a whatever-else-I-could-rattle-off-if-I-felt-like-sifting-through-a-thesaurus. The pacing's lethargic, and even though Garfield features several chase sequences where a small army of animals are darting across the screen, the lack of energy fails to match the madcap hee-larity suggested by the bouncy score sputtering underneath. Maybe this just means it's a solid adaptation -- the comic strip hasn't been worth reading in what, fifteen years and change?

Garfield is the only computer-generated creation in the movie. He's reasonably well animated, due, I'm sure, to the presence of Chris Bailey, a former Disney animator who in more recent years has been responsible for the look of series like Clerks and Kim Possible. Garfield doesn't look entirely like the comic strip character I grew up with, and he never blends in particularly convincingly with his surroundings. All of the other critters in the movie -- rats, dogs, Garfield's feline friends -- are actual animals, and, yup, that includes a completely unrecognizable Odie. Characters like Jon and Liz that weren't cobbled together in post-production are a waste. Breckin Meyer's exaggerated line readings sound like he's having a seventy-minute conversation with a two-year-old. Neither Jon nor Liz have anything resembling a personality or are even given anything to do other than help nudge what passes for a plot forward. The only appeal Garfield might hold to viewers old enough to have hair in funny places would be Jennifer Love Hewitt, looking as cute and tightly-garbed as ever, continuing her parade of exceedingly questionable movie roles. Any similarities to these characters and the comic strip are purely coincidental. The three panel Jon I know is a dateless dweeb; his cinematic counterpart is a fairly ordinary, if shy, schlub. That he and Liz almost instantly start making cute leaves me wondering if the screenwriters' familiarity with Jim Davis' strip extends beyond the names of characters and the presence of lasagna. Then again, this is a movie where a cat that's supposed to be incomprehensibly lazy leaps around, boogies down to some bland Black-Eyed Peas number, and rail-slides down a skyscraper's cavernous stairwell. Garfield's supposed to laze around and sarcastically comment on what's buzzing around him, not engage in wacky, high-speed misadventures. Bill Murray is an understandable choice to provide the title tabby's voice, considering that the late Lorenzo Music, the actor who voiced the animated Garfield on the small screen, also did the voicework for Murray's Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. The difference is that Music's Garfield sounded disinterested, in keeping with the character. For the movie, Murray himself sounds disinterested, phoning it in for a seven-figure paycheck.

Video: This DVD sports a pair of presentations: one full-frame and the other preserving the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is, not surprisingly, pretty good -- this is a brand new, decently budgeted movie, after all. The source material is predictably free of any damage or speckling, and no edge haloes or compression artifacts caught my attention. Crispness and clarity are both a notch above average, and the movie is bright and colorful. No major complaints.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) is about as bland as the movie itself. The soundtrack is anchored towards the front speakers, with only some lightweight reinforcement and scattered ambiance in the surrounds, and there's barely a hiccup from the LFE for the duration. Pretty typical for a comedy. The DVD also includes stereo surround dubs in French and Spanish. Rounding out the audio options are subtitles in English and Spanish and closed captions.

Supplements: Pretty light for a major studio release, Garfield: The Movie only includes a couple of extras. First up is a commentary by director Peter Hewitt and producer John Davis (not to be confused with Garfield creator Jim Davis.) Although I'm not too keen on the movie, their commentary is pretty decent, working better as a special effects overview than a blow-by-blow chat about the minutiae of the movie. The commentary was recorded a week before the movie was released (even before the premiere!), and their comments largely revolve around how the special effects were accomplished and overcoming the challenges of shooting a movie where your central character isn't a physical, tangible presence. Various topics include casting, revising the initial "evil" character designs to something closer to the comic strip character, how Jim Davis' only stipulation was that Odie not talk, designing the movie's palette so that Garfield really stands out against the other colors in the background, and Stephen Tobolowsky's Olympic-grade backflip. Hewitt and Davis refer to several deleted scenes that they say will hopefully be on the DVD, but no such luck -- I guess it's a cash-grabbing move so that Fox can issue a special edition a few months down the road. Their commentary is only listed on the "Language Selection" menu and is easily overlooked. Another odd decision with the design of the menus is that instead of listing the DVD's extras on a separate submenu, everything is lumped under the "Inside Look" banner and plays consecutively. They include an anamorphic widescreen sneak peek at Robots (4:26), a canine-centric featurette for Because of Winn-Dixie (5:52), and a music video for the Baha Men's "Holla!". Only the music video in any way relates to Garfield. The DVD also kicks off with a couple of plugs for other kiddie product from Fox.

The DVD includes a set of 16x9 animated menus and twenty-eight chapter stops. No insert has been provided.

Conclusion: Garfield: The Movie might be worth a rental for very young children, but parents are advised to hide in another room for 80 minutes while it's playing. Garfield is easily one of the worst movies I've seen this year, and if you've happened to look at the types of movies I typically review, that's saying a lot. Skip It.
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