In this film, Garfield plays a sanitized version of himself.

James Plath's picture

"Garfield Gets Real"?

Get real. This straight-to-video animated feature is such a departure from the beloved comic strip that you won't even recognize it.

Jim Davis's feisty feline is nowhere to be found. This Garfield isn't as mean and nasty (to Odie and his "owner," Jon), he isn't as exaggeratedly lazy, and, the biggest problem, he isn't as sarcastic as the torpid tabby from the funny pages.

This Garfield is just plain dull . . . and so is the movie.

I know, that's a harsh thing to say about a film like this, but my children back me up. Halfway through our "movie night" they asked if we could watch something else. And my kids are usually as easily amused as the next person's.

Part of the problem was the strange-looking animation. It's hard to put a finger on it, but this 3-D CGI animation looked strangely flat. What makes it so, I think, is that everything is drawn with an excessively wide and dark black outline, with color then filled in. The whole film has a questionable palette too, with way too much yellow and orange in it the first half, as if to suggest that this is Garfield's world. But all it did, really, was make my kids say things like, "Why are the streets yellow?" My kids noticed that when Garfield is trying to get ketchup to come out of the container and it goes all over the place, that the splats and droplets of ketchup looked "weird." I think that viewers today--especially younger ones--have become so used to animators striving for cartoon realism that when they see stylized animation it can be a shock to the system. But I have to say that I also thought it looked weird. Yes, things naturalize somewhat when Garfield leaves comic-strip land and enters the "real" world, but the drawing is still strange.

None of the minor characters are drawn in a terribly endearing or original way, either. In this film the comic-strip "frames" are first acted out, then converted to black-and-white comic-strip frames by a computer wiz. The director looks like an odd cross between a puffy-chested John Ford and Boris Badenov, while his top-heavy assistant is just as bizarrely unattractive. When Garfield hits the streets and encounters alley cats and dogs, the characters aren't nearly as interesting (or endearing) as those we've seen in "Lady and the Tramp" or even "Olive & Co."

In terms of plot, not nearly enough happens. Garfield gets bored, runs away to the real world, has encounters there, and learns that he has to make it back or else the strip will be cancelled. The goofy thing is, the cartoon gang watches his antics on a big screen as they watch various humans who read the comics, as if the comic was a portal to the real world. More than a few times that taxes the brain. But the biggest problem is that this film has zero energy. The pacing is interminably slow, there's not much conflict or tension, and not enough interesting visuals to make things interesting. There aren't even many funny moments in all of these animated frames to perk things up, and that's surprising, since the script comes from none other than "Garfield" comic-strip creator Davis himself.

The first time we saw Garfield off the page it was 1982, and "Here Comes Garfield" was inspired by Davis's strips. Davis would earn his first screenwriting credit with "Garfield: His 9 Lives" (1988), and there have been five films and a 75-episode TV series since then. Maybe Davis is losing some of his steam, or maybe he's under pressure to make Garfield less rambunctious. But this just isn't the same cruel cat fans have come to love as the embodiment of their own pampered pets.

As far as the plot goes, there frankly aren't enough "Prince and the Pauper" moments for us to see why Garfield would even want to leave his cushy job as comic-strip star and head into the "real" world, which is the premise behind this film. And once he gets his wish to be just a regular housecat, nothing really improves. The style of animation is still unattractive, the pacing is still sluggish, there aren't enough laughs, and there isn't enough of a dramatic through-line to hold our interest. As I said, it's surprisingly dull, and there's not much more that I can say about it.

Except, perhaps, that fans who grew up listening to Lorenzo Music's droll voice on the TV series will find Frank Welker's Garfield voice generic, by comparison. On one of the bonus features, Davis said that he hand-picked Welker, and maybe it's unfair to single him out, when there are so many other reasons why this film just doesn't cut it.

The quality of the picture is very good. Though the cover notes don't say that this is mastered in High Definition, everything looks really sharp . . . just drab in the first half. "Garfield Gets Real" is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen.

The audio is a decent English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with additional 5.1 options in Spanish and French, and subtitles in English (CC) and Spanish. The sound is clear and crisp, with no distortion.

This is one of those rare cases where I enjoyed the bonus features much more than the film. My kids did too. There are a number of featurettes that "Garfield" fans will appreciate. The first shows Davis at home ("Paws, Inc.") talking about the comic strip and showing how it goes from idea to the page. A second one also zooms in on Davis and feels pretty much like part two to the first featurette. Then we get a pair of short features on the voice talents (where we see them not just on-camera doing interviews, but also working and participating in a group session) and a feature on "Animating from the Seoul" that talks about the animation style that I didn't care much for. But all of the short features are well done and worth watching.

Three games are also included here, though only PC owners will be able to access the two DVD-ROM games, "Punt the Pooch" and "Whack-a-wawa." The third game is on-screen and geared toward the youngers kids. It's an "I Spy" style game that asks you to move the arrow keys to find objects in a row that Garfield needs to get up and dressed and out the door. There are several screens of this, and no "start-over" option to frustrate your little one if he/she keeps guessing incorrectly. After each wrong guess, Odie appears and there's a BLAHHHHH sound, then back to the game-screen again. So as I said, it's small-kid friendly.

Bottom Line:
I didn't care much for the style of CGI animation, and wasn't bowled over by the plot either. The premise is so cliched--it's always greener on the other side--that you count on individual sequences to delight you. But that doesn't happen often enough. It's hard to imagine a Garfield film that's dull, but this one is so ordinary and so low-energy that even my kids couldn't make it through the whole thing. Yes there are moments of "peril," but you have to endure a lot of routine before you get there. In this film, Garfield plays a sanitized version of himself. I prefer the old Garfield.


Film Value