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With studios clambering to snap up any available pop culture icon and turn it into a feature-length movie, it was only a matter of time before 80’s comic strip stalwart Garfield was given a run. The actual premise to Garfield is pretty simple; he’s fat and lazy, loves lasagne, hates Mondays, torments the household dog, sings badly and sleeps a lot. The comic strip, written by Jim Davis, was enjoyed by many despite its rather simplistic story elements. The film version is unfortunately a whole different kettle of fish. Those at the helm of this film aimed fairly and squarely at the kiddie genre. What they end up with is a disaster (of a) movie.

Garfield: The Movie
Movie
Toy Story scribes Joel Cohen and Alex Sokolow must have been laughing in their piggy banks when they wrote this one. The so-called creative team were so inspired that they merely replaced Woody with Garfield and sent him on basically the exact same adventure as their much more entertaining last effort. You see, Garfield isn’t all that happy when his dim-witted owner, Jim (Breckin Meyer proving to everyone he’s found his “niche”) brings back a dog named Odie from the vet. Through a quick turn of nonsensical events Odie runs away, only to be picked up by the devious, cardboard cut-out villain Happy Chapman.

All this mayhem follows a quick ten minutes where a checklist of Garfield’s vices are ticked off in rapid-fire succession; the first line he utters is “I hate Mondays”, he swaps his cat food for John’s and he sits on the couch to watch TV. With that out of the way we can get to the incredibly obvious product placement mixed in with an abominable attempt at a humorous storyline. Throw in veterinarian Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) who, unlike the comics, tends to fancy the doe-eyed John quite a bit, and you’ve got yourself a mixture of lacklustre acting, an anti-hero who is more grating than funny and a story that includes neither laughs nor action. Oh dear.

I won’t hide the fact that I’m a Garfield fan from way back. The cartoon specials were simple yet unashamedly fun exercises, with Garfield and Odie taking on Halloween, Christmas and the tropics. But it’s obvious that this film was an exercise in pure dollar signs rather than a concerted attempt to capture the essence of a much-loved character (at least way back then) and turn it into something everyone can enjoy. Bill Murray was the obvious choice for Garfield’s droning tones after the familiar cartoon voice Lorenzo Music passed away. If Murray was a big Garfield fan then there might have been hope of convincing those in charge to come up with something better. Unfortunately not, so Murray ends up sitting in a recording studio for a couple of days and comes out with his big, fat pay cheque.

There is enough scope in the Jim Davis cartoons to create something mildly amusing at the very least, but no care has been taken to provide anything close. Garfield’s pesky little nemesis, Nermal, has been turned into his Persian best mate. John isn’t as stupid as he should be, and Liz doesn’t play hard to get like she ought to. But it is also the omissions which make the film all the more disappointing. Garfield sings not once but three times during the film, presumedly because the writers needed a little more padding to fill out the seventy minutes. But where’s his trademark song and dance routines on the fence? Where is his gap-toothed love interest Arlene? And again, what the hell happened to Nermal?

Garfield: The Movie
The biggest problem is obvious. You can’t make a film based on a simple comic strip unless you either go all out and bring in the big guns from Pixar and Dreamworks to make it entirely CG, or you hark back to the much simpler forms of animation (read The Lion King et al) so that the whole film looks like a cartoon. The executives chose to cut costs by making Garfield the only CGI creation in the film, cutting the budget in order to reap rewards at the other end. But take a hint, fellas, there are no rewards if you turn out crap like this without thinking.

There was potential to get creative in the way that the leading animations tend to explore. The computer-generated Garfield receives a pass without being startling, but put him in a 3D animated world and there’s definite scope for something even remotely funny. Sadly, a much-loved character has been given a back-handed slap by equally lazy studio heads with dollar signs in their eyes. We wait for a completely animated remake in twenty years time.

Video
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and on the whole comes up a treat. The whole “cartoon” look to the visuals is represented well here, with all the colours remaining sharp and vibrant with no bleed to be seen whatsoever. The overall sharpness is quite good, even with the rather soft look Garfield is given to blend in with his surroundings. The majority of the film takes place during the day, so black levels don’t really figure in the analysis of the picture. That said, however, there is no real problem in terms of aliasing or black levels at all. There’s nothing startling about the transfer but it’s a pity the storyline is poor because the visuals are actually quite solid.

Audio
The audio soundtrack included on this release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is about as unremarkable as one can get. As I’ve mentioned before, the potential for animated films (even if it’s just one character) to exhibit some creative use of the speakers is quite high, but unfortunately as much care has been taken with the soundtrack as the screenplay. On the whole there’s nothing inherently wrong with the mix but you get the feeling there were plenty of times when the surrounds could have been used much more effectively. There are the occasional moments where the score or ambient effects bounce around the rears though for the most part everything sits firmly in the front stage. A pretty ordinary mix overall.

Garfield: The Movie
Extras
A reasonable collection of extras has been assembled for this release, starting with an audio commentary from producer John Davis and director Peter Hewitt. The pair recorded the commentary before the film’s theatrical release, which is strange. What is even stranger is that they proclaim their “tremendous enthusiasm” for the film. I wonder whether they would have been as enthusiastic had they seen the reviews after opening weekend.

We do get to hear a few tidbits here and there which are quite interesting to listen to considering how terrible the film actually is. We learn that Bill Murray actually is a big Garfield fan, which is why he signed up to voice the part. The most remarkable piece of information is that the Garfield animation cost around $35 million to produce. This leads to the two commentators to speculate about creating a Garfield film that is entirely CGI, budget permitting. Guys, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that was the more logical path in the first place; if you don’t have the budget to do it all CGI, then don’t do it at all.

Next up is a collection of deleted scenes, the first of which actually includes a scene with Garfield and Arlene, who is now a funny looking real life cat, minus the gap in her teeth from the comic strip. It’s not a bad scene, albeit unfinished, and does show that at least some though went into including other story elements from the original comics. We then cut to a useless piece of footage of a half-rendered Garfield walking down the street, then move on to a bizarre (and really long) clip of two black guys mapping out the dance routine that Garfield and Odie end up performing in the film. Trust me, it’s a lot different to the final product. There are more clips here and there, but the whole thing just smacks of the producers gathering every piece of cut footage they could find and throwing it into this package.

Two children’s games have also been included on the disc. The Find Odie maze game has Garfield searching for Odie using your remote control, while mixing moments with Garfield harks back to the old style animation as you switch different elements to create a different scene every time. Good for the kids, so they are a welcome addition.

Rounding out page one is a featurette called Bringing The Cat To Life. Surprisingly it’s not your usual making of fluff, though what you do get is the obligatory CGI breakdown to show how Garfield was inserted into the film. It’s a relatively interesting piece if you’re into animation at all.

Garfield: The Movie
Page two gives us the best extra on the disc, one that Garfield devotees will most definitely enjoy. Creator Jim Davis takes us through the evolution of Garfield by drawing him right before our eyes. It’s a multi-angle feature using a camera on Davis and a camera focused on the pad he draws on. It is great to see how Davis’ influences changed the way Garfield was drawn.

Finally there is Gone Nutty, the Ice Age themed short animation about a squirrel and his walnuts. It’s a strange inclusion on this disc but well worth a look for both kids and adults alike. Overall it makes for a reasonable extras package, with an informative commentary, a bit of a mess of a deleted scenes package and a few bits and pieces for the kids, topped off with two featurettes that add the real value to the disc.

Overall
This whole film is an example of the Hollywood mindset when it comes to filmmaking. Just because you can make a film doesn’t mean that you should. Turning a simple comic strip into a lacklustre live action film save for the main character was always destined to fail. The movie isn’t helped by a terrible script that was all about churning out something acceptable in order to make some easy cash. The disc itself arrives with a decent video presentation, an average audio mix and an acceptable bunch of extras. The kids may like this but there are certainly much better productions for them than this one. A major disappointment that was always doomed to fail when the words “live-action” came up in development.


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