Amazingly, it has taken over twenty years for a live-action feature film adaptation of the "Garfield" comic strip, by Jim Davis, to reach fruition. Even more amazing is that, in those twenty-some years, a better and more original script couldn't have been written. "Garfield: The Movie" is strictly innocuous fare that, unlike the recent and wonderful "Shrek 2
," rarely even attempts to break outside the targeted kiddie demographic. The story and dialogue sorely lack creativity, but the film is harmlessthe sole reason why it is difficult to out-and-out hate it. Still, in the year 2004, does anyone even care about "Garfield" anymore?
Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray, taking over for the late Lorenzo Music) is a fat, lazy, television-loving, lasagna-obsessed orange feline who happily lives with his owner, Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer). His content life is suddenly upset, however, when Jon brings home a dog named Odie and suddenly starts paying his new pet more attention and care. In an attempt to steal back the limelight, Garfield locks Odie outside the house while Jon sleeps. The next morning, Odie is gone, so Garfield, realizing the error of his ways, breaks free from his comfy barcolounger and sets out to rescue him from the clutches of disgruntled animal television personality Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky). Not far behind on the trail are Jon and his sweet veterinarian gal pal, Liz Wilson (Jennifer Love Hewitt).
Directed by Pete Hewitt, whose biggest past claim to fame has been "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," "Garfield: The Movie" may only be 82 minutes long, but it feels much longer. Even at such a pat running time, the terminally thin plot is stretched far beyond its limited constraints. For a child of about 7 or 8, the movie will undoubtedly entertain. Unlike the best of family films, however, it offers little that will be of interest to older audiences, even those that were once fans of the comic strip and cartoons. The most witty joke, and one of the few that will go over the heads of the little ones, finds Garfield sullenly singing the blues of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." In Garfield's world, it is retitled "New Dog State of Mind." Otherwise, the vast majority of the comedy is of the broad physical variety, with a lot of burps for good measure. Fortunately, and mercifully, there isn't a fart in sight.
In concocting a plot for the premiere "Garfield" motion picture, couldn't screenwriters Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (2003's "Cheaper by the Dozen
") have come up with something more inventive for Garfield to do that go save the kidnapped Odie? And if they were having such a difficult time formulating ideas, then even a full-length remake of the classic "Garfield's Halloween Adventure" would have been more visual and exciting than what is found in the finished product. As for the "talking animals" conceit, it has become so overdone and cliched in recent years (2001's "Cats & Dogs
" or 2003's "Good Boy!
," anyone?) that it now simply comes off as dull and desperate.
The newly computer-generated character of Garfield, the only animal in the film to be created this way, sticks out like a sore thumb among his live-action counterparts. While the animation is quite good, giving his fur lots of texture and realism and his eyes a soul, less successful is his interaction with the humans. In fact, when Jon or Liz are called upon to hold him, the visual effects are downright clunky and embarrassing in this technologically state-of-the-art day and age.
As Garfield, Bill Murray (2003's "Lost in Translation
") sparks energy to his sometimes acerbic dialogue. In the central live-action roles, Breckin Meyer (2001's "Rat Race
") and Jennifer Love Hewitt (2002's "The Tuxedo
") put on game faces even as they realize this is certainly not the pinnacle of their careers. Perhaps it is the hardened adult in me coming out, but Meyer and Hewitt were so charismatic as a couple that my attention sparked up every time they appeared. The two of them could easily star together in a romantic comedy and make it genuinely affecting and charming. When the animals took center stage, which was most of the time, my interest radically flagged.
At a time when quality family films like "Shrek 2
" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
" are playing in theaters, "Garfield: The Movie" seems even more tired and lazymuch like Garfield himself. The film is bankrupt of imagination and will be nearly forgotten the instant the viewer exits the theater. Nevertheless, "Garfield: The Movie" was clearly not made for anyone over the age of 10, and taken on those accounts the end result could have been much worse. What is so disheartening is how little effort seems to have been put into Garfield's debut foray into feature films. The good-natured felineand original creator Jim Davisdeserved more respect than this.