Due to a combination of insomnia and missing my cats, I’ve recently become a big fan of Garfield and his cartoon non-adventures. So I decided to take it upon myself to review the fat cat’s critically maligned cinematic outings, because I’m stupider than Odie. Had someone walked in and discovered me watching the Garfield movies, I planned to lie to save face and say I was watching snuff porn.
I actually saw this film in the cinema, when my dad went to see something for which I was too young – quite possibly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the interest of fairness, next time I watch Eternal Sunshine I’ll be sure to force my dad to watch Garfield simultaneously, A Clockwork Orange style.
Let’s start with the film’s single positive – the casting of Bill Murray as the voice of Garfield. He’s the perfect choice to play the lazy, cynical, sarcastic cat and for that the casting directors get full marks. But they get all those marks removed for the rest of their decisions, not least for the casting of Breckin Meyer, who I knew from Rat Race and A Nightmare on Elm Street 6. They somehow managed to find someone too bland to play Jon Arbuckle, a man whose sole characteristic is being outwitted by a cat on a daily basis.
In this movie, Jon adopts Odie the dog and Garfield is not happy. But when Sammy Jankis from Memento tries to steal Odie, it’s up to the lethargic cat to save the day. It’s a complete rip-off of 101 Dalmatians, with all the charm of the comic strips obliterated by a crap CGI version of Garfield. What is this, Catwoman?
A live-action version of Garfield was never going to work. For one thing, Garfield can’t talk. But the extent to which they managed to screw it up exceeds all expectation. There’s even that awful feature of rubbish kids films where the characters dance to a pop song in a cringingly obvious piece of contractual obligation – in this case The Black Eyed Peas. I’m not having a go at The Peas – my colleague Alex would hurt me if I did – but they have no place in Garfield. So after enduring this laugh-free waste of time, I moved reluctantly on to the sequel wondering: How much worse can it get?
4% worse, according to Rotten Tomatoes, bringing Garfield 2 down to a measly 11%. Bill Murray subsequently explained that he only agreed to be in the first film because he thought it was written by Joel Coen of The Coen Brothers, when it was actually written by Joel Cohen. An easy mistake sure, but one you’d make twice?
There isn’t much more to say about the sequel, other than that it’s another 80 minute destruction of something I love. This time, true to the tradition of uninspired big screen adaptations, the characters go abroad – to London in fact, where Garfield swaps places with an aristocratic doppelganger. If the first film was 101 Dalmatians then this is The Aristocats, except no one makes that pun presumably for copyright reasons.
Most of the action takes place in a grand country estate, so it’s essentially Downton Tabby. As is too often the case, the UK is presented as one big heritage site in which everyone is an aristocat. Sorry I mean aristocrat, please don’t sue me Disney. What I’m trying to say is, I object to Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties on political grounds.
I know it’s a film for kids, but do the writers? This movie contains a dog called Rommel, a reference to Marie Antoinette and Garfield’s Hannibal Lecter impression. Billy Connolly and Dawn from The Office show up but cannot save this sequel, whose one good gag is nicked straight from The Marx Brothers.
Any Garfield movie is doomed from the start. The genius of the cartoon strip is surely in its artwork and its simplicity – I actually refuse to read them if they’re any longer than three panels. He shouldn’t leave his bed, never mind the country. The comedy lies in his profound inactivity, not wacky adventures. But these films ignore everything that’s good about the cartoon, somehow appearing even lazier than Garfield himself. It’s testament to the brilliance of Jim Davis’ creation that these movies leave Garfield unscarred, landing on his feet once again.
The chubby cat who loves lasagne and hates Mondays is still going strong after 35 years and remains the most syndicated comic strip in the world, appearing in over 2,500 publications. I for one love the adorably fat feline and his blissful laziness, sardonic misanthropy and existential mewsings – it’s just unfortunate that the movies so strongly resemble animal cruelty.