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The Garfield Movie Review: A Case of the Mondays

The Garfield Movie

The Garfield Movie may please children, but there’s very little to offer beyond dated jokes, shoddy animation, and scenarios that Garfield would never do.

Director: Mark Dindal
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Run Time: 101′
Global Release: May 24, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

Who is Garfield? A lazy, cynical orange cat who loves lasagna and hates Mondays (and Nermal, who can forget). Everyone who has ever laid their eyes on a Jim Davis comic strip knows this: Garfield lets everyone around him make an effort while he rests and waits until everything is handed to him on a silver platter.

That’s what makes him funny and the reason why he’s been such a beloved part of our popular culture since 1976. 

Within the first fifteen minutes of The Garfield Movie, director Mark Dindal and screenwriters Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove, and David Reynolds completely disregard what Davis established of the character by kidnapping the titular character (Chris Pratt, of Guardians of the Galaxy) and his dog sidekick, Odie (Harvey Guillén, of Blue Beetle) and putting him at the front and center of a…heist mission? That’s right, the lazy, Monday, and exercise-hating Garfield now has to help his father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson, of Secret Invasion), steal a large truck of milk (???) for the villainous Jinx (Hannah Waddingham, of The Fall Guy) so he can repay a debt from her. 

Meanwhile, Garfield’s owner, Jon (Nicholas Hoult, of Mad Max: Fury Road), is completely sidelined, and the movie instead focuses on the orange cat not being lazy and enjoying exercise as he helps his long-lost father pull off what can be considered an impossible heist? Of course, some will argue that if The Garfield Movie stuck it to his comic strip structure, there would be no movie. While that may be true, many Garfield adaptations were made that stayed as close as possible to the original text with great success. Even something as eclectic as Garfield: His 9 Lives retained the essence of the protagonist to the fullest and never deviated from what made the character so special. They could go back in time and paint Garfield in different iterations and aesthetics while ensuring his traits remain the same as he moves from one life to the next. 

The live-action movies, which starred Bill Murray as the orange cat, still understood Garfield’s innate nature and always ensured his “real” iteration would stay as close to the page as possible while putting him in a series of coincidental situations that made its physical sections work. It feels immediately baffling that The Garfield Movie would deviate so much from the original source material and completely misunderstand what made the character come to life through Davis’ pen, while the poorly-received live-action films nailed their portrayal of the cat far better than how Dindal and Pratt treat the character here. 

A cat and a dog are eating food in a fridge while a human watches them weirded out in The Garfield Movie
The Garfield Movie (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

To be honest, I think Pratt is a great fit for the character and is a far better voice actor than most people gave him flak for. But his take on Garfield never clicked with me, even during moments in which Dindal does call back to his roots (such as a montage where his hatred of Mondays is visualized) and show that, hey, this cat is the one you grew up with! Beyond that aforementioned montage and some delicious-looking animated lasagna (honestly, I’d eat the family-size portion, too), there’s not much of the character that remains from Davis’ page to the screen. 

Instead, most of its jokes feel like they were written fourteen years ago, with CATFLIX replacing Netflix and playing constant cat videos on TV or the Mission: Impossible theme playing as Otto (voiced by Ving Rhames of Mission: Impossible, if you didn’t understand the reference) explains to Garfield, Vic and Odie how to break into the milk factory. If you didn’t think that was funny, don’t worry: Garfield pauses the movie (as the Top Gun music plays during the climax, another Tom Cruise reference) to say, “In case you’re wondering, I do my own stunts. Me and Tom Cruise.” 

That’s the level of humor that the movie adopts throughout its runtime, instead of developing Garfield’s sense of cynicism further than the live-action films and previous animated adaptations did. But since it’s already going to make a record amount of money, no one seems to be bothered by the fact that none of Garfield’s spirit is found in any of its scenes. Instead, the movie and would rather be more commercial in its comedy to appeal only to small children who like body comedy and animated characters doing little dances than be true to the source material and appease a broader audience of old and new fans rediscovering the character on the screen.

The Garfield Movie: Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

The children at my screening were eating it up and would react vividly to scenes where Garfield was stuck into sequences of extended physical comedy. I don’t blame them. I probably would’ve reacted the same way had I never picked up a Garfield comic at the school library before seeing the film. But with Garfield being such an integral part of my childhood, through the comics I would continuously read at school, and the television specials broadcasted on Télé-Québec’s Ciné-Cadeau (Christmas programming with no Christmas movies…a Quebec tradition!), an actually great studio adaptation of the character is more than overdue

It pains me to say that we’ll never get a proper theatrical adaptation of Garfield because none of the individuals who have currently tried their hand at the character fundamentally understand the traits that made him so popular through Jim Davis. They only see dollar signs, sales of Happy Meal toys, Walmart delivery boxes, and Olive Garden lasagnas skyrocket, and Garfield 2 greenlit by next week, so this cynical brand exercise can continue sooner rather than later. Whatever keeps theatres alive, I guess. 

The Garfield Movie will be released in US theaters and UK cinemas on May 24, 2024.

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