As Lazy As the Cat Himself

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The Garfield Movie stars Chris Pratt and Samuel L. Jackson

Mario was able to follow a critically-reviled live-action movie with a smash hit animated feature adaptation, so why can’t Garfield do the same thing? That’s what Sony is hoping this weekend as its latest animated adventure hits theaters, attempting to give the iconic Jim Davis comic strip another shot at life on the big screen. Just like Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie last year, The Garfield Movie features Chris Pratt as the voice for the titular character. And just like that Mario movie, the new Garfield adaptation leaves quite a bit to be desired.

The Garfield Movie begins with the same origin story you’ve heard before: Jon Arbuckle is a very lonely man when he encounters an orange Tabby who has an obsession with Italian food. The two become best friends and Garfield takes over Jon’s life, creating an enormously comfortable world for himself. Even Odie, Jon’s pet dog, falls in line, acting as a sidekick and unpaid intern for Garfield’s antics. This cat is smart, loves lasagna, and hates Mondays; you get it. 

Where this new adaptation aims to set itself apart is by giving Garfield a backstory and using it to fuel an adventure. Garfield and Odie are taken by an evil cat named Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), who use them as bait to lure out Garfield’s estranged father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson). She and Garfield both have a complicated history with Vic, and she plans to exact revenge by forcing Vic and his son to steal a couple thousands quarts of milk from an evil dairy corporation (which is made even more nonsensical by the fact that we already know at that point Garfield could’ve used his memorization of Jon’s credit card number to buy the milk to pay her back). Along the way, they end up meeting a bull (Ving Rhames) who helps them break into the facility, as long as they promise to break out his lover that is being kept in the petting zoo.

It’s a story that feels more like a bunch of separate ideas loosely tied together by a cat from a comic strip than an actual plot for a movie, but The Garfield Movie is a film that doesn’t seem concerned with such things. Plot and character development take a back seat to recycled jokes and product placement. Seriously, there are enough obvious ads that you could mistake certain segments for outright commercials. That is all somehow made even nastier by the fact that this is an animated film geared towards kids. It’s more important for them to know just how fast they can order something on the Walmart app than watch a story that actually has something to say about friendship or how to treat one another. The lazy and selfish nature of Garfield as a character make a film like this a prime opportunity to encourage young, impressionable minds, but all we get is a shallow exploration of hearing what someone has to say before you judge them.

One could argue that The Garfield Movie is “for kids” so all that matters is little ones laugh and have a good time, but kids deserve better than that. This point is also moot because The Garfield Movie is largely void of the fun and humor kids crave. There are some zany bits designed to elicit laughs, clearly inspired by Wil E. Coyote and the other Looney Tunes. They’re okay at times and will get a few chuckles, but they’re out of place amidst a movie that isn’t aiming for the slapstick nature of that material. The Garfield Movie never knows what it wants to be and makes those scenes that could be entertaining feel more frustrating.

There are a few wins in the comedy department to be fair, and they almost all come from the canines in the film. Seriously, if I didn’t know better I’d think The Garfield Movie was an inside job from dog owners, secretly letting the world know that their tail-wagging best friends are the superior pets. Odie is a national hero and a very, very good boy. Communicating without words (though given a “voice” by Harvey Guillen), Odie makes the most out of physical comedy and expertly walks the tightrope of being the comedic relief and cute non-verbal sidekick. 

And then there’s Roland, an relentlessly saggy Shar Pei voiced by Ted Lasso Emmy-winner Brett Goldstein. Anyone who has watched just three minutes of Ted Lasso knows that Goldstein is an expert comedic talent when wielding that gruff, bouldering British accent, and he employs it perfectly in The Garfield Movie. Four out of about every five lines from Roland land right on your funny bone. He and Odie together are enough to save this adventure from being a complete bore.

The Garfield Movie has a lot on its mind, and some of the ideas in that mind could’ve translated to something worthwhile on the screen. But this is Garfield we’re talking about. Laziness is his entire M.O., and the production unfortunately followed his lead.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Garfield Movie opens in theaters on May 24th.

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