An animated orange tabby stares with exaggerated eyes into a window. His paws pressed against the glass.

Film Review: The Garfield Movie

Film Reviews

The Garfield Movie
Director: Mark Dindal 

Alcon Entertainment and DNEG Animation
In Theaters: 05. 24

As a kid growing up in the early ‘80s, there was little that got me giggling harder than a Garfield comic strip. While most of them don’t necessarily hold up very well as an adult, I still have a fondness for the orange tabby,  and it brings back a strong nostalgia for childhood. The Garfield Movie didn’t have to be a great film to win me over. It just had to live up to its title.

As the movie begins, we meet young Garfield as a cuddly kitten on a dark, rainy night. Garfield’s father, Vic (voiced by Samuel L Jackson, Pulp Fiction) leaves him at a shelter, promising to return. Cold, scared and hungry, Garfield waits and waits, until he sees a human, Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Great) dining alone in an Italian restaurant. The two bond, and Jon adopts Garfield. Years later, Jon’s dog Odie, runs into Vic, who needs his son’s help to get him out of hot water with his vengeful ex-girlfriend, a cat named Jinx (Hannah Waddingham, Ted Lasso, The Fall Guy), who used to be in gang with Vic until a dairy heist went wrong and she was sent to the pound, while Vic escaped, leaving her behind. To settle his debt, Vic must complete the original mission: steal thousands of milk bottles from a dairy called Lactose Farms. Garfield, Vic, and Odie must infiltrate the heavily guarded location. Their only ally is Otto (Ving Rhames, Mission: Impossible), a bull who was on the face of Lactose Farms, along with the love of his life, a cow named Ethel, until they were separated. The menagerie of animals must work together, and father and son must learn to trust one another gain, if this high stakes mission is going to succeed.

It’s understandable that the makers of The Garfield Movie felt that they needed to have a plot that kept audiences engaged, and that making a good movie was more important to them than taking a purist approach to the material. The plot certainly didn’t need to be nearly this convoluted, however, and it’s shamelessly derivative of Chicken Run and is hard to escape, right down to the character design of Marge, an animal control officer voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong. In general, the design is all over the place, with Garfield, Jon, and Odie following the look established by Jim Davis, the original cartoonist, but many of the other characters look like they have just been pulled from various mismatched existing movies. If you’re going in as a fan, be prepared that for the most part, The Garfield Movie is so far from getting the basic attitude of the lead character or the simple dynamic that it feels like a peripheral connection to the source material at best. All of this would be more easily forgivable if it was a lot more entertaining, but sadly, it falls flat more often than not. There’s a certain amount of physical comedy that may appeal to kids, but the sly, cynical sarcasm of the title character has largely been neutered. The narcissistic edge is kept carefully in check, and is completely gone from his interactions with Jon and Odie, the heart of the original material. The feline villains and Vic’s past as a thief suggests that the screenwriters got Garfield and Heathcliff confused and didn’t bother to do enough research to correct the error, and very little of this plot thread works at all. The film really only succeeds on any tangible level when it’s milking the relationships between Garfield and his two dads, the absentee father Vic, and the adoptive father, Jon, for emotional warm fuzzies. The final action sequence aboard a train is fast moving and fun, if completely out of place. 

Much has been made out of the casting of Chris Pratt as Garfield, and while it’s not ideal casting, he does a capable enough job, and the shortcomings in the portrayal of the character can’t be blamed on him. Jackson is energetic as Vic, and the two try to inject some heart into the proceedings despite a lack of chemistry. Hoult is trying too hard to do a goofy cartoon voice as Jon, and while Rhames does have one of the most memorable voices in the movies, the character of Otto simply never clicked for me. The rest of the voice cast isn’t even worth mentioning, with the villain characters being so annoying and out of place that even the presence of talented voice actors couldn’t make me enjoy them.

The Garfield Movie gets some mileage out of moments of cuteness, and enough manic energy to keep kids watching, particularly in the second half. In terms of keeping parents – the ones who are more likely to be attached to Garfield as an intellectual property – engaged, this is a bit of a slog, and I’d recommend it only as a discount night family excursion, or something to wait and let the kids watch on video. –Patrick Gibbs

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