The Garfield Movie


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Garfield Movie
"It's a stodgy interpretation of something that wasn't that fresh to begin with."

Garfield isn't actually the first name for the cartoon strip. Way back in 1976 creator Jim Davis named it 'Jon'. It wouldn't be the first time that a different character came to become central to a franchise. The presence of Chris Pratt is a pointer towards animated outposts of multimedia juggernauts, as well as some of this film's wider issues.

Pratt has done a lot of voice work. He's here as Garfield but similarly, digitally, earlier, as Mario. Between Guardians Of The Galaxy, Jurassic World, and The Lego Movie it's hard to estimate just how many action- and mini-figures are out there sounding like him in children's imaginations. Garfield ratchets that number up significantly, not least because it contains a near-obligatory nod to Macy's Thanksgiving parade and the plush cats held onto car windows by suction cups.

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Or, perhaps, clear suckers, because that's mostly what I felt I was being treated as. There's been some promotional noise about meeting someone from Garfield's history we've never met before, but if I had a nickel for every time Chris Pratt had played or voiced a character who was re-united with an absent family-member it would start to become a weird exercise in recurring themes. That made me check that Garfield didn't have a superheroic subtitle like 'Origins' or 'Begins'. What it does have is product placement, and in a wholly digitally animated movie it's glaringly obvious.

Don't get me wrong, one can have fun with these sorts of things. I'm massively fond of The Addams Family which includes the bit with the lemonade stand just to get the reverse-shot of Lurch standing in front of a Tombstone Pizza billboard. It's less fore-grounded than a massive bag of Pop-Chips Nacho flavour, a limited edition whose contents are probably digit-staining and whose digital packaging is almost as large as the movie's star.

There's mention of US restaurant chain Olive Garden in the script, Roborock automatic vacuum cleaners are seen, there's Heinz Ketchup, Walmart, Fed-Ex. As one starts to look for things, other design choices become even more glaring. The use of the Top Gun theme (or non-copyright soundalike) for a flight sequence could have been Ride Of The Valkyries, but that wouldn't set up a 'joke' about doing one's own stunts. Recycling material doesn't just include references with all the subtlety of one of those big pepper grinders, but various viral videos of internet-famous felines. These appear intermittently as Garfield watches 'Catflix', and there's no prizes for guessing what logo that borrows.

There's a marking on a dumpster (06-19-78) that references the first publication of the strip as Garfield. You can read it here and if that level of reverential self-reference isn't off-putting then you might manage the movie.

I got stuck trying to figure out where typewriter noises while eating a pizza figure as skeumorphs. At least the resurgence of vinyl as a musical format means there's a chance kids will have encountered record-scratches in person. They might overlook the way the L and F of 'Lactose Farms' are arranged but even in a cursive font having them appear in black and red on an epaulette was a design choice I did not see coming.

Those farms are much of what passes for a plot. Garfield reunites with a figure from his 'past', they have to rob a dairy of 1,675 quarts of milk, and various lessons are learned in ways that at one point reminded me of Manhunter. That volume of milk is 1,585 litres, which is far less than the capacity of the tanker they intend to steal. It borrows design cues from Luigi Colani's concept trucks, though adds cow-horns to steer it into something a bit more fanciful. It's nowhere near as appealing as the vehicles in The Bad Guys but that's an overwhelmingly better film.

There are screenplay credits for three writers. Paul Kaplan, who's done some TV comedy writing including for George Lopez and Spin City. His co-writer on those and several other projects, Mark Torgrove. Finally, David Reynolds, who went from writing for Late Night host (and Simpsons alum) Conan O'Brien to working on a slew of Disney movies. He and director Mark Dindal worked on The Emperor's New Groove but if you've noticed that these are all from a fair few years back rest assured - I had too.

While the voice cast on paper looks solid, I fear that whoever got Snoop Dogg to voice a character called Snoop Catt took the rest of the day off. Hannah Waddingham voices Jinx, a cat with a colour-coded mood-ring necklace, she's got henchmen (Brett Goldstein also of Ted Lasso, Bowen Yang of SNL), and she's got revenge in mind. Extending a three-panel comic-strip to a three-act structure can't be easy but this feels like a swing and a miss. The best bits are some montages that borrow the setup/development/punchline process of those regular rectangles, but they're too few and too fast left behind. They, more than any of the bigger beats, were what was worth watching. That there's a new 'television' show due soon is probably grounds for waiting for something intentionally episodic.

There's a song in the credits sung by Waddingham that made me regret that this wasn't a musical. There are more of those viral videos in there too, but a wait of about 100-minutes to get to it is too much. I'm a grown-up, I don't have to wait for dessert. I also know better than to make access to something sweet dependent on chewing through something that's otherwise bland.

Like the lasagne of which Garfield is fond, you would hope an animated film of this stripe would have layers. There are moments that made me laugh, and moments that would probably make a child laugh, but not enough. Not enough meat, not enough sauce, and while at times it seems to be aiming to be dry it never feels crisp or compelling. You can make a lasagne with ready-grated cheese and white and red sauces from jars, but intent to preserve means that they'll be saccharine and overly processed. All those balances feel off. Cheesiness seems inevitable, but quality suffers from convenience.

Crowbarring a character into a heist or prison-escape is the kind of trick that went out of fashion with music videos in the late 1990s. Previous Garfield movies have borrowed from The Prince And The Pauper or re-tellings like Days Of Future Past. It would probably suffice to fill a hole - it's coming out on a bank holiday weekend after all - but it's a stodgy interpretation of something that wasn't that fresh to begin with. The Garfield Movie is undercooked, soggy if not baggy, and like delivery salad, limp.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2024
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The Garfield Movie packshot
After Garfield's unexpected reunion with his long-lost father, ragged alley cat Vic, he and his canine friend Odie are forced from their perfectly pampered lives to join Vic on a risky heist.

Director: Mark Dindal

Writer: Paul A Kaplan, Mark Torgove, David Reynolds

Starring: Chris Pratt, Samuel L Jackson, Hannah Waddingham, Ving Rhames, Nicholas Hoult, Cecily Strong

Year: 2024

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US, UK, Hong Kong


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