The Garfield Movie (2024, dir. Mark Dindal)

by | May 21, 2024

Certificate: U

Running Time: 101 mins

UK Distributor: Sony Pictures

UK Release Date: 24 May 2024

WHO’S IN THE GARFIELD MOVIE?

Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Waddingham, Ving Rhames, Nicholas Hoult, Cecily Strong, Harvey Guillén, Brett Goldstein, Bowen Yang, Janelle James, Snoop Dogg, Ernest Guillart

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Mark Dindal (director), Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove and David Reynolds (writers), John Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Namit Malhotra, Shelley Smith, Craig Sost and Steven P. Wegner (producers), John Debney (composer), Mark Keefer (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The lazy cat Garfield (Pratt) comes face-to-face with his long-lost father (Jackson)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE GARFIELD MOVIE?

Before (fictional) Bill Murray met his untimely demise in Zombieland, he was asked if he had any regrets. His now-famous response? “Garfield, maybe.”

Yes, the 2004 live-action/CGI adaptation – in which Murray voiced the orange, lasagne-loving, Monday-hating feline himself – has its fans, whether they’re genuine or ironic ones. But when it comes to capturing the essence and understated wit of Jim Davis’ iconic comic strip, that film doesn’t even begin to touch what has made Garfield a refined pop culture figure for nearly fifty years. It fell victim to many pitfalls of family films at the time, from needless pop culture references to rampant product placement to unfunny lowest-common-denominator jokes to, most damningly, a lack of respect for the beloved source material. No wonder Murray regretted it, at least in the Zombieland universe.

In a lot of respects, The Garfield Movie feels like a course correction for the cat’s cinematic career. For one, it’s fully animated – which makes complete sense, given that a comic strip character like Garfield perhaps works best as a cartoon – and stylistically, both written and visual, it’s a lot closer to Davis’ recognisable character designs and sardonic drollness than live-action would ever allow. However, despite scoring a number of decent chuckles and even a few heartfelt moments, this new rendition from director Mark Dindal (formerly of Cats Don’t Dance and The Emperor’s New Groove, with this being his first feature after finally being released from director’s jail for the crime of making Disney’s Chicken Little) also doesn’t fully capture the essence of the Garfield comics, even if it’s not quite as off-the-mark as before.

The film establishes the familiar continuity of Garfield (voiced by Chris Pratt) living a pampered life with his silent dog buddy Odie (whose grunts and barks are provided by Harvey Guillén) and their human owner Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult). That changes when, one night, Garfield and Odie are snatched and brought to vengeful feline Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), who orchestrates a reluctant reunion with Garfield’s long-lost father Victor (Samuel L. Jackson), who seemingly abandoned his son as a stray kitten. Jinx wants both father and son (and Odie) to work together on a heist, where they must steal several gallons worth of milk from a massive dairy farm, in order to repay Jinx for a past betrayal. In order to do that, though, the heavily domesticated Garfield must learn how to adapt to the outdoors, and maybe even reconnect with his estranged dad.

Albeit under wildly different circumstances, The Garfield Movie is similar to the 2004 version in that it takes the lazy, spoiled cat out of his comfortable domestic environment and onto an active, perilous journey in the wider world. In both cases, it’s a stark contrast to what most of the comic strip was, which consisted of Garfield simply indulging in mischief and mayhem – not to mention enough food to stock a restaurant kitchen for months – around his house and the immediate surrounding area, with most adventures beyond those places kept to a minimum. It’s easy to understand why, for both theatrical adaptations, the character would be thrust onto such extravagant outdoor missions, since watching an animated cat simply laze around a house for 90 minutes wouldn’t be particularly entertaining, especially for young kids. However, by making this notoriously lethargic feline a much more active and even heroic presence (even if it is to humorously contradict his unhealthy lifestyle), the spirit of the original comic strip has become somewhat diluted by more conventional family movie tropes, which may disappoint those hoping for a more faithful adaptation.

It’s slightly frustrating because, in a lot of other aspects, The Garfield Movie has a decent amount going for it. For one, it’s quite funny, with the fast-paced animation near-perfectly synced with some very humorous reaction shots and quick cuts that get some good laughs from their timing along. The animation itself is made more fun to watch by how it fully embraces the fact that it’s a cartoon, with plenty of Looney Tunes-style slapstick and sight gags, complete with how characters can get squished and distorted without so much as a scratch in the next frame. It also has fun with certain character designs, like a Shar Pei henchman whose wrinkly skin easily wraps itself over others like a burlap sack, as well as some jokes that get hilariously grim, like a running gag involving a piece of roadkill during a Mission: Impossible-style montage sequence. You can tell that it’s directed by the same person who did The Emperor’s New Groove, because much like that underrated Disney gem, it’s aiming for such an energetic, irreverent and somewhat self-aware style of comedy that it’s impossible not to slightly giggle from its bright and silly nature.

Most crucially, even though the film itself isn’t completely faithful to the core concept of Garfield, the character himself at the very least feels like the Garfield we know and love. The script captures his dry sense of humour, his transactional relationships with other characters like his spineless human owner Jon and his friend Odie (who is given a Gromit-like makeover as he silently steers things in the right direction), and his self-centred view of the world. The voice acting by Chris Pratt also helps to liven these attributes, for as he did in The Super Mario Bros Movie he gives a performance that loses itself in the iconic character without feeling too much like it’s simply a celebrity voice on the other end. It’s a version of Garfield that is certainly made to be more sympathetic, especially during some sweeter moments later on in the film, but for the most part it definitely seems as though the filmmakers were well aware of who this character actually is, even though the narrative slightly veers off from what his original comic strip was.

In all, The Garfield Movie is a serviceable family film with plenty of unavoidable faults, from a predictable plot to some notable product placement, but it’s got some good laughs and a decent enough grasp on the character himself to keep most viewers entertained. At the very least, unlike Bill Murray, this is a Garfield movie that you won’t entirely regret.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Garfield Movie offers some decent family entertainment with fast-paced animation, some funny gags and a good grasp on the iconic character himself, though the narrative slightly goes against the spirit of the contained original comic strip.

Three out of five stars

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