'The Garfield Movie' Is as Mundane as Mondays

Directed by Mark Dindal

Starring Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Waddingham, Nicholas Hoult, Ving Rhames, Bowen Yang, Brett Goldstein, Cecily Strong, Harvey Guillén

Photo courtesy of DNEG Animation

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished May 23, 2024


Garfield is an uncomplicated character. He likes what he likes (lasagna, sarcasm, his teddy bear Pookie, and, begrudgingly, Jon and Odie), and he dislikes what he dislikes (Mondays, baths, Nermal). He is sardonic, lazy and often cynical, and this is where much of his misfortunes — and humour — stem from.

In the latest attempt to bring the orange feline to the big screen, many of these classic traits are not only missing, but outright subverted: Garfield (voiced by Chris Pratt) is sweet, even nice, something which long-time fans will undoubtedly denounce. And yet, The Garfield Movie is a light, fun and usually entertaining — albeit bland — addition to the Garfield canon, one that may not revive the character, but one which, for better or worse, introduces a more amiable version of the character to a new generation.

The Garfield Movie explores Garfield's origins — what happened to his family, how he found Jon, where his love for lasagna stems from, why he's pricklier than a porcupine — before turning into a caper-meets-familial drama filled with gags, punchlines and innumerable cultural references. It's all very sincere, heartwarming and relatable – food is everything, after all. Also, fair warning: if you have a pet whom you love more than anything, you will probably cry more than once.

One night, while getting his requisite midnight snack, Garfield and Odie (Harvey Guillén) are petnapped by Roland and Nolan (Brett Goldstein and Bowen Yang, respectively), two henchmen for a villainous, larger-than-life Persian cat named Jinx (Hannah Waddingham). Jinx reunites Garfield with his long-lost father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), and tasks the trio with stealing a shipment of milk to pay a long overdue debt. Along the way, they meet Otto (Ving Rhames), a depressed bull who offers to help them steal the milk if they help him reunite with his beloved; and Marge (Cecily Strong), an overzealous animal control officer.

The film's ambitious plot is simultaneously a refreshing change from Garfield's traditionally domestic storylines, and also a bit of a let-down. Much of the comic strip's humour comes from Garfield's interactions with Jon and Odie at home, and while Odie joins Garfield on his adventure, Jon (Nicholas Hoult) is almost nonexistent in The Garfield Movie. It's a shame that Garfield and Jon's relationship is both underdeveloped and underused; the pair share only a few scenes together, many of which, apart from the origin segment, prove to be arbitrary, plotless and montaged.

The voice acting throughout is stellar, particularly Jackson, Rhames and Waddingham, whose Jinx has big Ursula-from-Little Mermaid energy. Meanwhile, Pratt, who has become somewhat of a go-to these days for bringing both new and much beloved characters to life is just fine. While Lorenzo Music's Garfield will forever loom large over any performer who dares to take on the role, Pratt brings a modern, more affable energy to the character. Although his voice is too ironic to bring the necessary level of sarcasm that Garfield usually exudes, Pratt nevertheless puts his own, unique spin on the character, making him more accessible and inviting, giving him a warmth that's sure to melt any pet owner's heart.

Unfortunately, Pratt's also simply generic Pratt. It becomes nearly impossible to distinguish Garfield from Mario or Emmet Brickowski, or even Barley Lightfoot from the criminally underseen Onward. Pratt does nothing to make this Garfield — it's just Pratt with a (very famous) feline façade. And to be clear, Pratt isn't a bad Garfield per se, but he could stand to be a little more deadpan. Even though Pratt shouldn't feel pressured to copy Music, or even Bill Murray, a little more disinterest would be welcome.

Throughout the film, cat puns are abound (Jon reads The Great Catsby and Romeo & Mew-liet; Jinx drinks a "mewmosa" and says she's "feline good," Garfield watches "Catflix," which just shows viral videos of cats, obviously the best streaming service ever), and the film is filled with absurdity: at one point, kitten Garfield cries and gets washed away in a river of tears, while in another scene, Odie's tongue is used as a bungee cord. Although there are numerous call-backs to Garfield merchandise, comics and old TV specials (at one point, Garfield even gets stuck on a windshield like the classic suction toys), he only mentions he hates Mondays once or twice, and that's blasphemous. Everyone hates Mondays — let Garfield have his moment to vent!

A recurring gag sees Garfield falling and getting hurt, usually in the form of getting flattened on some surface. Such exaggerated slapstick humour is rarely, if ever, seen in the comic or the specials, and so it feels like an easy (some might say, lazy) way to appeal to kid viewers. And yet, the filmmakers don't entirely forget the older audience, using numerous references to cinema and television as a way to appeal to more adult sensibilities.

Surprisingly, the film is inherently indebted to early cinema (including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd) and adventure serials, as well as film noir, Westerns and, of course, Looney Tunes. At one point, Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" soundtracks a weird and thinly-veiled bovine love scene, and there's a training montage reminiscent of the Pai Mei section from Kill Bill: Volume 2. There's even a moment where Sigur Rós is played on a piano, punctuating one of Jinx's sad pound reflections.

Since The Garfield Movie saw it fit to change its titular hero's temperament to such a drastic degree, it begs two important questions: why has Garfield been watered down, and why is Garfield a property that needs to be revived and revisited cinematically? Do kids care about this character? Do they even know this character, or is it a ploy to play on the nostalgia of parents and caregivers? In a world populated by superheroes and Jedis, drawing kids to a lazy, arrogant but undeniably lovable orange tabby might be difficult. Regardless, the overconfident producers apparently feel he's worth betting almost $50 million on.

Nevertheless, it's always pointless to hold onto characters as they were. They will inevitably change, evolve and adapt. Anyone who grabs their pitchforks and proceeds to yell at clouds because Garfield isn't the acerbic layabout they know and love is out of touch and even more cynical than our favourite feline.

The Garfield Movie needlessly complicates and overly relies on cheap gags to make it through, but it's also bright, big, bouncy and fun. The film gleefully promotes the idea that eating, lounging and life in general is always better spent with friends, family, and pets. A simple but effective lesson, and one we should remember more often.

(Sony Pictures)

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