The Austin Chronicle

The Garfield Movie

Rated PG, 101 min. Directed by Mark Dindal. Voices by Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Waddingham, Ving Rhames.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 24, 2024

Movies are bigger than cartoon strips. That’s why adaptations of four-panel funnies are often so challenging. The source is confined and constrained, working to pack a funny short story into the visual equivalent of a paragraph. Making the leap to the big screen, the story has to go big, and that leaves the filmmaker with a choice: Make a bigger version of the regular story or put the characters into a bigger story.

Take The Peanuts Movie, the 2015 adaptation of the homespun antics of good ol’ Charlie Brown. It took a big element of the Peanuts mythology – Chuck’s awkward affection for the Little Red-Haired Girl – and let it fill the screen. Compare that to the dismal Marmaduke, which gave everyone’s favorite clumsy Great Dane an inner life, and inner voice, and a back story.

2004’s deathly CG/live action hybrid Garfield: The Movie took the latter angle, and was a mirthless, overblown mess. Now The Garfield Movie gives the obnoxious furball a second trip to the movies, one that loves the old strips a bit more. If you care about this movie then you likely know the setup: orange tabby cat, loves lasagna, hates Mondays, terrified of spiders, treats his owner Jon and his best friend Odie poorly, but is funny enough to be charming. Yet The Garfield Movie still can’t resist the temptation to give us a Big Story. I mean, ask yourself: Did you really need to know who his daddy is?

Well, now we know it’s Vic (Jackson), who Garfield (Pratt) is convinced abandoned him as a kitten. Luckily, as shown in an opening flashback, the flabby feline gets taken in by Jon Arbuckle (Hoult) who raises him and indulges his abysmal diet, while enabled and assisted by the endlessly energetic Odie. The happy canine is voiced by What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillén, who just has to bark and whimper because, while this is an animated feature, he’s still just a dog. Garfield, of course, has his inner voice, and now can talk to other animals including Vic, who turns up back in his fuzzy boy’s life after all these years. Vic can also speak, and so can Jinx (Waddingham), the kitty crime boss who drags them into a milk heist, Otto the bull (Rhames), and a cow named Olivia (James), which raises a lot of questions about why Odie remains mute.

The script by TV sitcom mainstays Paul A. Kaplan and Mark Torgove with Disney veteran David Reynolds (The Emperor’s New Groove, Finding Nemo) sends Garfield off on a cross-country escapade filled with Loony Tunes-esque stunts that deflate his well-established ego. Yet he begins to feel like a side-character, especially when the script becomes fascinated by the romance between Otto and Olivia. It’s not that it’s unfunny or completely without charm: it’s that the script feels like an abandoned The Secret Life of Pets sequel into which Garfield has been crowbarred. That feels like a disservice to both the character and the work of comic creator Jim Davis, who proved you don’t need a race across the roof of a moving train traversing a perilous gorge to make Garfield a hit. We may be past the era in which every car came pre-installed with a plush Garfield suction-cupped to the rear window, but he’s still popular enough to deserve being the star of his own movie.

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