I Actually Enjoyed It! – Garfield: The Movie

Directed by: Peter Hewitt
Produced by: John Davis
Starring: Bill Murray, Breckin Mayer, Jennifer Love Hewitt & Stephen Tobolowsky
Budget: $50 million
Box office: $200.8 million
Release date: June 11, 2004

I’m going to be honest and say I’ve put this one off for a while. Sometimes justifying why I enjoy films despite their glaring shortcomings can be deceptively difficult particularly when the shortcomings are as prevalent as they are here. In much the same way that an animal lover with a dog that chews up the carpet, humps the cushions, craps in the kitchen, pisses in the sink and is at his most active and playful between the hours of 12-5am still loves the dog regardless I am very aware of this films flaws and fully understand why others hated it but I am a fan regardless.

As a child I loved watching Garfield and Friends and to be honest I still crack up at a number of the gags today. The tone and sense of humour was harmless and child friendly but still sarcastic, cheeky and actually a lot more intelligent than people gave it credit for. Jim Davis apparently modelled the character of Garfield off his grandfather who was a lazy, unconcerned but ultimately kind-hearted and likeable soul of a man with a ginger beard and pot-belly. Garfield embodied this personality beautifully and with a cast of friends that were just as likeable at his disposal the name and likeness currently has a net worth of anything from $750 million to $1 billion annually.

Understandably Garfield: The Movie looked to cash-in on this and in that area it was a massive success by all accounts, making just over $200 million. However, with a current score of just 15% on Rotten Tomatoes it took a beating critically with criticism aimed at poor special effects, formulaic structure and differences from the source material. As already mentioned I’m not about to try and deny the validity of a lot of the criticism because its valid; as CGI effects go Garfield himself isn’t exactly the prettiest face in Hollywood, the plot isn’t going to change the world and there are a few diversions from the source material that are practically criminal. Yet I actually enjoyed it in spite of its imperfections and as a harmless piece of throwaway comedy for kids or fans of the franchise I’d even go as far as recommending it.

Garfield the cat is voiced by none-other than Mr Bill Murray, one of my favourite actors might I add, and I genuinely struggle to think of a more perfect casting decision. Murray’s laid back tones suit the character perfectly. Besides sounding one hell of a lot like Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield in the original series, his delivery is suitably mellow and pleasing on the ear as Music’s was before him and even though he reportedly only signed up for the role because he thought The Cohen Brothers were writing it he does sound invested and enthusiastic. Odie the dog is present and correct and although using a dachshund might have been more appropriate his portrayal is inoffensive and he does end up being a key component to the plot. Jon and Liz are portrayed by Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt respectively, the other way round though innovative would just be too weird, and though Meyer doesn’t look a good deal like Jon from the cartoon his dorky demeanour and love for his pets is all intact and Hewitt as Liz is absolutely fine if unspectacular and she looks as lovely as ever. Elsewhere, and I will admit this, they totally misjudged their portrayal of Nermal the cat! He’s the wrong colour for a start, he isn’t particularly cute, he doesn’t even try and get under Garfield’s skin so we have no reason to find him annoying and Garfield makes not even one mention of sending him to Abu Dhabi via mail order; one of the funniest recurring jokes of the show.

In terms of presentation things look good for the most part. Jon’s house and the surrounding area look like they do in the cartoon and even the house layout and interior bare a resemblance to the cartoon. The soundtrack is a little sparse but it does feature Holla by The Baha Men as its theme tune and the song is suitably fun and bouncy for the job it has to do. As a side-note The Baha Men are criminally underrated in my opinion and unfairly labelled as a novelty act when their actually a lot more talented than they’re often given credit for. They won a Grammy once for what it’s worth.

Coming in at barely an hour and twenty minutes it would be perfectly acceptable to keep the plot of Garfield: The Movie contained to just Jon’s house and street and have it feature Garfield, Odie, Nermal, Jon, Liz and maybe one or two others and this is what they should have done. This would have kept a consistent tone and atmosphere throughout and would have made the whole film feel a lot more like the source material and probably please fans. We get this for the first 40 minutes or so and it’s these 40 minutes that are the best in the film. Then it takes us out of the cul-de-sac and it’s here where the film suffers in my opinion as a lot of the wit and charm does not follow and the film admittedly becomes a little formulaic. If the studio were to have another stab at this in a few years’ time and if they stuck closer to this formula I genuinely believe they would be onto a winner both commercially and critically.

As it stands Garfield: The Movie is a solid attempt in my opinion that’s pros outweigh its cons. The first half is vastly superior to the second, a lot of the gags even the cheaper ones hit where and as hard as they want and Garfield himself is a pleasant character. I can understand why long-time fans were disappointed and can even sympathise with their complaints but as a harmless, light-hearted and surprisingly warm piece of afternoon hangover viewing material Garfield: The Movie is pretty okay in my eyes.

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