‘The Garfield Movie’ Review: Beloved Feline Loses His Sarcastic Growl in Product Placement-Heavy Origin Story (2024)

The lasagna-obsessed feline with a near-pathological aversion to Mondays, who first came into popular consciousness in the late ‘70s as a comic strip, is a diluted version of himself in “The Garfield Movie.” Not only is his suave apathy mostly replaced by an excessive excitedness with only sporadic glimpses of his endearingly negative qualities, but this Garfield jumps off trains, stages a heist, and is subjected to trite physical comedy by way of numerous predictable action sequences. The ordeal mimics a rehashed plot from the dull “The Secret Life of Pets” franchise with Garfield forcefully plugged in.

All of these choices amount to a production that fundamentally misunderstands Garfield’s appeal as a lovingly indifferent, self-centered glutton whose greatest aspiration is to do nothing and have all his needs catered to him. It’s a Garfield movie for audiences who have never heard of Garfield, which reads as an attempt at erasing history and reintroducing him in this high-octane, overly stimulated form for a generation with reduced attention spans. Set in the present, Garfield now orders food on delivery apps — and in a climatic sequence it’s drones, not drivers, who help him save the day — which sets the stage for several instances of shamelessly conspicuous product placement from Walmart to Olive Garden. In another example of low-hanging, pop culture-centric, uninspired humor, this Garfield’s favorite pastime is to watch Catflix, a streaming site exclusively dedicated to online cat videos.

Such is the disinterest in reflecting the world of Garfield as it had previously existed that even Garfield’s owner Jon Arbuckle (voiced here by Nicholas Hoult), has been adulterated. Preceding iterations often portrayed Jon’s frustration at his pets’ antics, but the Jon here not only lacks screen time but recognizable personality traits. At least Garfield’s loyal canine pal Odie remains mostly intact — Harvey Guillén, on a kick voicing animated dogs after Perrito in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” is in charge of his sounds. Pratt’s sunny tone voicing the main role fails to capture Garfield’s sarcastic nonchalance. His star casting, as was the case in last year’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” prompts one to long for Bill Murray’s take on the pudgy cat in the hybrid films from the early aughts, because even though those productions were far from compelling, they better captured his essence.

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Devised to function as an origin story, “The Garfield Movie” introduces Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), the father who, in this interpretation of his story, abandoned Garfield as a kitten. The burly cat, who doesn’t exist in this form in other “Garfield” media, reappears in his life when a cookie-cutter villain, Jinx (Hannah Waddingham) and her equally unoriginal dog henchmen coerce him to steal over 1000 gallons of milk from a dairy farm/theme park.

The demand serves as retribution for the time Jinx spend in the pound after a failed robbery with Vic. The screenwriters (Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove, and David Reynolds) further burden the narrative by spending multiple scenes and even flashbacks (done in an interesting 2D, illustration style) on supporting characters that feel superimposed to elicit emotional resonance. The main culprit is Otto (Ving Rhames), a self-possessed bull banished from the farm and unable to see his beloved cow girlfriend.

In defense of director Mark Dindal, who helmed Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Chicken Little,” and his animation team, the cartoony facial expressions and realistic fur in this Garfield find an aesthetically pleasing middle ground between his hand-drawn version and those done in CGI for the big screen adventures and later for a late 2000s-2010s TV program “The Garfield Show.” The graphic look of “The Garfield Movie” calls to mind how the now defunct studio BlueSky approached their adaptation of the “Peanuts” characters. Caught in the nonstop boisterousness that consumes most of the running time, one could easily forget that the opening sequence, which benefits from limited lines, where an adorable, big-eyed baby Garfield first meets John is an engaging departure point. If only the creators would have stuck with the quotidian tribulations that best befit Garfield rather than opting for high-stakes stunts that betray him. The result is more a generic product in search of fleeting mass appeal than a work invested in Garfield as a unique character.

The longer this bombastic exploit runs, the fonder the heart grows for the animated series “Garfield & Friends” from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the most accomplished audiovisual adaptation of Jim Davis’ creation. That a woman sitting near this writer spent the entire movie scrolling on her cell phone while her children half-watched confirms that a lot of American animated features aimed at young audiences have been completely devalued by both studios and audiences, condemned to exist as rowdy background noise desperate to win the battle for attention against ubiquitous handheld devices — even in a theater. ”The Garfield Movie” serves as a bleak reminder that the future of much children’s entertainment made in this country is to become colorful advertisem*nts. It’s also a terrible Monday of a film for the orange tabby whose storied laziness over nearly 50 years has certainly earned him better.

‘The Garfield Movie’ Review: Beloved Feline Loses His Sarcastic Growl in Product Placement-Heavy Origin Story (2024)


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