‘The Garfield Movie’ is More Fun for Kids than Adults (Review)

by | May 23, 2024


Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving feline is back on the big screen, this time in a computer-animated adventure.

It’s depressing when a pop culture mainstay for its multi-decade lifespan gets a film adaptation that isn’t true to its characters; Batman fanboys were divided when the Caped Crusader branded criminals by burning his logo into their skin in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and diehards for Transformers cringed when Optimus Prime looked into the camera during Michael Bay’s first film in that series to promote eBay. The fat and lazy lasagna-loving cat Garfield may not have the rabid fanbase that those icons have, but those who grew up reading the long-running newspaper comic by Jim Davis won’t be eager to bring their children to see his latest cinematic adventure The Garfield Movie, because while kids will be entertained by the colorful animation and voice work, adults will find it a chore to sit through for its lazily written story made incomprehensible by rough pacing, and poor attempts at modernized humor.

The Garfield Movie begins with Garfield (Chris Pratt) as a kitten, alone in an alley on a rainy night. Cold, alone and hungry, little Garfield scampers across the street to Italian restaurant Mama Leonie’s, where lonely cartoonist Jon Arbuckle (Nicolas Hoult) is having dinner alone until he sees the orange kitten staring longingly at his pizza and lets him inside to give him a pepperoni off his pizza. . .only for Garfield to then devour his entire dinner and then the entire restaurant. But Jon loves him all the same, and adopts Garfield to live with himself and his dimwitted dog Odie (Gregg Berger), who Garfield makes his “unpaid intern” to keep him comfortable while watching cat videos on Netflix. 

Years later, Garfield is living the good life until one night where he and Odie are kidnapped by shar pei Roland and whippet Nolan (Brett Goldstein and Bowen Yang, respectively) and thrown in the possession of Persian cat Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), who also lures Garfield’s father Vic (Samuel L. Jackson) into her lair, and back into Garfield’s life after abandoning him in that alley in favor of life as an alley cat. After four years in an animal pound, Jinx tasks Vic and Garfield with an elaborate heist to satisfy her craving for milk, and the two cats and Odie set off to the tourist trap farm they’re meant to rob, mending their fractured relationship along the way.

If there is anything that kids and adults can find delight in throughout The Garfield Movie, it’s the animation. The eyes on each character are wonderfully expressive in their movement and large shape, while their facial expressions and mannerisms have been rendered straight from the funny pages, like when Garfield tilts his head back while lounging on a waiter’s tray high above the crowd to slide all the contents of a plate into his mouth open wide with joy. Credit must be given to the animation studio for bringing the look of Davis’ comic strip to life.

Also, Chris Pratt received a ton of flack online for being cast as Mario for The Super Mario Bros. Movie despite his lack of an Italian accent, and some of it did carry over into the announcement he would voice Garfield in The Garfield Movie. Thankfully, voicing the latter character has less prerequisites than the former, and while Pratt doesn’t match the late, great Lorenzo Music’s dry work from Garfield and Friends, he does a solid job on his own by nailing his sarcastic candor in comments made toward his kidnappers, and a relaxed demeanor while rummaging through the full refrigerator for a midnight snack only to tell Odie he’s “feeling Chinese tonight. Take the bottom two drawers and fold them all into a dumpling.” 

But there are problems abound in the script for The Garfield Movie. While some jokes land, such as a situational panic where Garfield exclaims for a commemorative pin, his referring to a possum playing dead after a legendary actor, and gags where characters break the laws of physics and hide behind a stop sign despite their portly stature, other attempts at humor reek of padding out the runtime. One example comes during an important discussion of Vic and Garfield’s plan to breach the farm undetected, only for Garfield to suddenly banter with the farm’s bull mascot Otto (Ving Rhames) over wanting a better code name. It’s poorly timed and grinds the film’s haphazard semblance of a plot to an embarrassing halt.

On that note, another glaring issue with The Garfield Movie is the creative team’s cheap approach to take the Illumination Entertainment route of filmmaking in the form of prioritizing pretty colors and loud voices over a thoughtful narrative with fruitful lessons for children to learn. But at least the stories within the Minions studio’s output are competently told and respect their audience. The plot of this animated adventure zips from one scene to another unbearably fast to the point where spectators feel like the movie’s about to end with Garfield barely learning a lesson, and that the movie’s few emotional revelations feel unearned, limp and glossed over. It’s completely all over the place like a real cat with the zoomies. 

Perhaps that’s by design, however, because the father-son dynamic between Garfield and Vic has nothing for viewers to which they can attach themselves; both characters have the same personality, the same unclear motivations and a tedious arc that’s been done so much better many more times. What’s also frustrating is that the movie only has the spirit of the source material for a grand total of five minutes after the opening title card. There’s a lightning quick montage of everything Garfield has squared off against in Davis’ panels over the decades – spiders, Mondays, mice, kicking Odie off the kitchen table, trips to the vet – but the movie would rather veer into Cliché City than play with anything else in the Garfield canon. Jon Arbuckle could have gone on a bumbling search for Garfield with his crush Liz in a fun subplot befitting for the lovable dork, but instead, all he does here is stay on hold with an animal rescue hotline. 

That’s not gonna stop these filmmakers from trying to tell you they’re actually celebrating Garfield’s legacy, though! There are subtle background references to his history, from Garfield and Friends-era character Binky The Clown appearing as the mascot on a cereal box to the number code on the side of an alley’s dumpster being the date Garfield first appeared in newspapers everywhere. Unfortunately, while children will no doubt be entertained by the pretty colors and rapid energy on screen, the adults dragged into The Garfield Movie will see past it all and recognize the movie for what it is: a cynical cashgrab devoid of its soul. Moviegoers of all ages deserve better, Jim Davis deserves better, and Garfield deserves better, too.

RATING: ★★1/2

(out of five stars)