October 31, 2016

Garfield (2004)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Pete Hewitt
Stars: Bill Murray, Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt

What it's about. A film adaptation of the Garfield comic strip. Garfield is animated, and the rest of the film is not. Jon (Breckin Meyer) is the hapless owner of Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray), a selfish and gluttonous cat. One day, Jon adds a dog to the household, Odie, to please his new girlfriend Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a comely young veterinarian.

Garfield is jealous of Odie, and his revenge results in Odie running away. Odie ends up with Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a television personality who wants to train Odie (using a shock collar) into performing tricks. Because it is a movie, Garfield leaves the house to rescue Odie. Jon and Liz then search for both Garfield and Odie. All converge at a train station, where a happy ending for all (except the villainous Chapman) ensues.

A 2006 sequel also benefitted from the voice talents of Bill Murray in the leading CGI role. Nonetheless, it was a flop, and subsequent sequels were cheaply made direct-to-video efforts.

How others will see it. Given the successful transition of other cartoon characters (especially Superman and Batman) to the silver screen, it was inevitable that Garfield the Cat would get his turn, which came in 2004. The film, targeted to preteenagers, became a profitable box office hit. Critics were underwhelmed, and the film's sole festival nomination was runner-up in the Worst Movie of the Year category at the Golden Schmoes.

Today at imdb.com, the film has a mediocre to bad user rating of 5.0. Women (5.4) are slightly more forgiving than men (4.9). Even viewers under 18 grade it only 5.6 (out of 10). But the user vote total is 60K, a respectable number for such a generally disliked film.

User reviews are mostly negative. One wrote, "Jim Davis would be rolling in his grave, if he was dead." More likely he is rolling in the dough, but that is the way the world works.

How I felt about it. During the 1980s, the peak popularity for the selfish cartoon cat Garfield, the franchise was voiced by Lorenzo Music. A professional voice actor, he was previously best known for playing Carlton the Doorman on "Rhoda". Music continued voicing Garfield through 1994, but he died in 2001. Bill Murray seemed ideal for taking over the role.

But there was a problem. Jim Davis, the cartoonist who created the overrated comic strip, sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox, instead of Pixar or Disney or a studio known for (occasional) good animated films. Fox, in turn, assigned the feature task to unheralded director Peter Hewitt and two writers (Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow) known primarily for their contributions to the collaborative screenplay for Toy Story.

Bill Murray became involved because he confused Joel Cohen with famous filmmaker Joel Coen. By the time he showed up, the movie had been filmed, and the other character's lines had already been recorded. Murray did what he could to rewrite and record his lines, which is probably why some of them rise to the level of amusing.

Murray's efforts salvaged the movie, and made it a commercial (if not a critical) success. But most of the film's problems were beyond his control. For example, Garfield commandeers train station controls and nearly kills hundreds of train passengers. He then pins this nearly catastrophic sabotage on Happy Chapman, after torturing him repeatedly.

The stereotypes are depressing as well. The villain is portrayed by a middle-aged man with a bald head and a high voice. The girlfriend is tall, rail-thin, and devoid of stress or anger. Jon wants his cat back after he destroys the living room? The neighborhood cats disdain Garfield for locking the dog out of the house? Why does Happy Chapman develop an obsession for a weiner dog that jumps up and down on his hind legs?

But the film was doomed once it was decided to make Garfield a CGI character, while the remainder of the movie was live action. This worked with Stuart Little, but not here, because the principal actors were human, and for that matter so was Stuart Little, even though he looked like a mouse. But if Garfield is animated, so should be the other animals in the movie, especially the cats. It would give them additional personality.

And if the entire film was animated, the lines could have been rewritten by Murray before the film was made. Which undoubtedly would have been a good thing.