Bland Strip, Bland Movie
I should start by stating where I stand on the entity known as "Garfield." First off, I'm a comic strip enthusiast; when I was much younger, I not only read the funnies but also read about them. I learned about their artistic qualities and am today a proponent of their validity as an art form, often referring to the works of Charles M. Schulz, G.B. Trudeau, Bill Watterson, and others. My brother and I used to draw a comic strip as well, privately and just for fun, and I learned a lot about creative writing in the process.
Along with appreciating the good came discovering the bad -- I consider Jim Davis's Garfield to be the worst comic strip running today. When it first became popular in the 1980s, it had an irreverence that was hard to resist; back then, I counted myself among its fans. But, as the strip became more and more successful, it also became more and more lazy. I believe Davis today has a staff drawing the strip and thinking up the recyclable jokes, all deliberately diluted to confuse as few readers as possible, no matter their age or background. Garfield exists now as a soulless commercial enterprise, coasting off the popularity it gained in its early years, endlessly juggling jokes about Mondays, spiders, cats, dogs, dopey owners, and, appropriately, laziness.
I know some of you are thinking, well, Garfield isn't the only comic strip guilty of that these days, and that's true, but Garfield is perhaps the most blatantly commercial, and so it's the easiest, most visible target. To further prove this, out comes Garfield, the live-action movie. Not Beetle Bailey, the live-action movie. Not Hagar the Horrible, the live-action movie. Garfield. And, no, those Blondie movies from the '30s and '40s don't count.
What possible reason could there be for anyone deciding to make a Garfield movie today, other than to further inflate the cash cow? Garfield hasn't really enjoyed the media spotlight since the late '80s, when all those plush toys found themselves suction-cupped to car rear windows across America. How much recognition does the character have with today's kids, the movie's intended audience? Were there hordes of older fans just waiting for computer technology to become advanced enough to finally animate a 3-D Garfield for a live-action movie? If so, why was only Garfield animated, and not his equally recognizable canine counterpart, Odie?
Odie, you see, is played by a real dog. He doesn't exactly look similar to Odie, but, then again, the live-action Nermal (Garfield's kitty foil) and Arlene (Garfield's female feline friend) don't look anything like their drawn selves, either. They look like regular old cats, except they talk. Oh yeah -- unlike the cartoons, where Garfield and his four-legged buddies "think-talk," these guys move their lips when they speak. I don't really understand the decision to do this; I assume the filmmakers are just following the talking-animal fad that's so popular these days, picking up where Cats and Dogs left off. It's not as if think-talking doesn't work in a live-action setting -- see Homeward Bound, it worked pretty well there.
Garfield is voiced by Bill Murray, which only further makes us wonder why Oscar-nominated turns are always followed by embarrassing parts. His voicing is decent -- he's no Lorenzo Music, but then Music passed away a few years ago, so Murray is a fitting choice. Ultimately, the voicing sounds like a cross between what we'd associate with Garfield and what we'd associate with Murray, the result of which is not particularly interesting. Meanwhile, live-action Jon is played by Breckin Meyer as someone possibly more clueless than the character in the strip. He's been paired up with a needless love interest played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, whose job it is to smile and look cute running all around town in a short dress.
The plot, meanwhile, is one we've seen before, wherein the main character lives a cozy life by himself (if you don't count the oblivious owner) until a new guy (here, Odie) moves in and begins to disrupt the old lifestyle. When the protagonist somehow ousts the new guy, he feels guilty enough to consider finding a way to ensure his return. In the movie, Odie is ultimately kidnapped and Garfield must come to the rescue. Incidentally, Odie's capture and rescue also anchored the plot of Garfield's first animated half-hour special, "Here Comes Garfield." That modest little feature was more entertaining than this current film.
So Garfield: The Movie has precious little going for it. It uses an old formula plot, with actors in formula roles playing second-fiddle to cute, formula talking animals, one of whom is cg. In a way, it's the perfect representation of Garfield. A bland comic strip inspires a bland movie. Normally, I get worked up whenever a movie does an injustice to a source material I hold dear; this time, I had no reason to muster any anger. The movie, in some twisted way, is actually faithful to the spiritless spirit of the strip. If both the strip and the movie weren't so bad, I might actually by amused by this.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG" for brief mild language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.