‘Garfield: The Movie’ Review: An Animated Adventure With More Heart (and Lasagna) Than Laughs

Chris Pratt and Samuel L. Jackson star in the first halfway decent movie based on the classic comic strip

Garfield
Sony

It says a lot about the human condition that we all love “Garfield.” Jim Davis’s nearly 50-year-old comic strip tells the ongoing story of Jon Arbuckle, a lovelorn sad-sack loser, and his snide, pompous, hedonistic cat Garfield. Neither of them are conventional heroes. They rarely even leave their house. Jon symbolizes the misery that stems from seeking external acceptance, while Garfield symbolizes the inner peace that stems from accepting yourself, vices and all. Or maybe it’s just about kicking helpless dogs and eating lasagna. Your mileage might vary.

The point is there’s something about “Garfield” that endures. So they keep cranking him out in every way imaginable and we keep buying it. That comic strip is somehow still running, even though the funny pages are harder and harder to find. The cat’s iconic face has been slapped on clothing, toys, video games, telephones, typing tutorials and even a short-lived ghost restaurant that served lasagna and “Garficcinos.” We love Garfield even when his products stink, and let’s be fair: they often do.

“The Garfield Movie” is the third theatrically-released feature film based on “Garfield.” Those first two are pretty rancid. It’s not enough that the Bill Murray movies have zero laughs, oh no. Those films have negative laughs. They take laughter out of your life — like the torture machine in “The Princess Bride,” but for comedy. The bar for this movie franchise was set so very, very low.

So when I say “The Garfield Movie” is the best “Garfield” movie, it’s going to sound like faint praise. Because it is. But faint praise is still praise. While this new film isn’t especially funny it’s still a reasonably enjoyable kids flick. It’s short on laughs but surprisingly big on tenderness.

“The Garfield Movie” begins with Garfield (Chris Pratt, not even trying to be anyone but Chris Pratt) telling the story of how he met his roommate Jon (Nicholas Hoult). Garfield was an adorable little kitten, left alone in a box in an alley by his criminal father. Garfield went begging at the window of an Italian restaurant, Jon scooped him up and took him home, they adopted their dog Odie (Harvey Guillén, “What We Do in the Shadows”), and settled into a nice, dull life of gluttony and couch potato-ry.

Garfield’s story takes an unexpected turn when two tough dogs, Roland (Brett Goldstein, “Ted Lasso”) and Nolan (Bowen Yang, “Dicks: The Musical”), kidnap the Arbuckle pets. When Garfield’s father Vic (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to rescue them, they’re interrupted by a villain named Jinx (Hannah Waddingham, also from “Ted Lasso”) who Vic betrayed years ago. Now she wants revenge.

Her price for letting Garfield, Odie and Vic go is 1,675 quarts of milk, which they have to steal from a company called Lactose Farms. The fact that “The Garfield Movie” acknowledges the existence of lactose is bizarre, since most cats are lactose intolerant, and can’t digest dairy products. So Jinx should have no use for that milk. Then again, this is a universe where Garfield gorges himself on cheese every day. (There’s a reason why Jim Davis never draws his litter box.)

So Garfield has to work with Odie, his thieving father, and a disgraced bull named Otto (Ving Rhames) to pull off an epic heist. Along the way he’ll process his abandonment issues and get knocked around like a Looney Tune. Everyone learns a valuable lesson and somehow nobody farts, despite the whole lactose thing. As kids movies go, that kind of restraint almost qualifies as classy.

“The Garfield Movie” was directed by Mark Dindal, who has been working in feature film animation for over forty years, and previously directed “Cats Don’t Dance,” “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Chicken Little.” This is his first feature directing credit in nearly 20 years, and it doesn’t have the same zing of his earlier films. But it zooms along at a brisk, enjoyable clip. As light entertainment, it’s pretty darned light and it gets the job done. (Dindal also knows how to animate a delicious-looking pizza, although the standard for cartoon pizza was set way back in 1989’s “All Dogs Go to Heaven” and still has yet to be topped — although “A Goofy Movie” came close. Look, somebody else cares about this subject. I know they do. I can’t be the only one.)

What’s surprising about “The Garfield Movie” is that although it’s based on a pretty cynical comic strip, its highlights are all sentimental. The flashbacks to Garfield’s kittenhood are shameless gut punches of maudlin cutesiness, but eventually they tear down one’s defenses. Garfield’s relationship with his father earns real sympathy by the end. What the film lacks in hilarious jokes — there’s only a few (watch out for the used catapult salesman) — it makes up for with good nature.

That’s not to say that “The Garfield Movie” comes across as a genuinely sincere kids movie. It’s packed with shameless product placement for Olive Garden, FedEx, Wal-Mart, and Nacho Popchips. Then again, for “Garfield” maybe that is sincere. This cat’s been selling out for longer than most of us have been alive. At this rate it defines him as much as anything else does.

Mark Dindal’s film is unlikely to be hailed as a family movie classic, and as animated interpretations of “Garfield” go, it lags way behind the classic Halloween and Christmas specials or the “Garfield and Friends” TV series. But it’s a heck of a lot better than most of his other 21st century adventures, and a lot less hate-able than Mondays.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.