Garfield's (voice of Bill Murray) lazy, lasagna-led lifestyle at the home of his bachelor owner Jon (Breckin Meyer) is rudely interrupted when Jon blunders his way into accepting a stray dog, Oldie, from the local vet, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) for whom Jon pines. Garfield at first rejects the 'dumb dog' but is somehow drawn to the likeable, undemanding mutt - who gets lost and is dognapped by tv show host Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky) in a devilish scheme to take him to the top of the ratings. Garfield sets out to find and rescue Odie. Jon and Liz follow suit, and their romance is the better for it.
Review by Louise Keller:
Garfield is a cool cat with attitude, yet his debut on the big screen falls short by more than a whisker largely due to a script that relies on novelty value rather than fresh ideas. It's the lack of emotional investment that disappoints most. Perhaps I expected too much, but when you have a talent like Bill Murray at the voice controls and a smug ginger-striped feline whose lovable nature is as big as his expansive waistline, it feels as though the sky is the limit. With a clever script, that is.
With its mix of live action and animation, the underlying theme is that of friendship. What initially begins as resentment and jealousy of the new canine addition to the household, turns into one of acceptance. Often the storyline seems to be self-serving, rather than serving the characters and I am not sure why Garfield searches for Odie nor am I convinced when he finds him and tells him (several times) he is his friend. Rather than push our emotional buttons, the script tells us once too often what is going on. (The strength of films like Shrek lie beyond the novelty, and the story sings from the emotional connection.)
The set up is the best part of the film, when a bumpy lump under a comfy chair in the bedroom starts to wiggle and a furry orange paw aims for the ringing alarm. This is our introduction to Garfield - brilliantly innovative, wonderfully observed and very funny. His mission is to wake up his master, and the expressions on his big-eyed mischievous face are wonderful. We immediately understand who is who, and what is what in the household. 'Love me, feed me, never leave me,' muses this sardonic ball of fluff, as he runs the roost.
There are a few inspired moments, such as the sequence in which Garfield is locked out of the house and sings the melancholy 'I'm in a New Dog state of Mind', but these only stir up my expectations, not satisfy them.
Of course the humans (played by Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt) are only allowed to be as bland as mere humans should be in this context, while Garfield and the neighbourhood cats and dogs are left to exude personality. The combination of animated Garfield with the live-action talking animals offers many opportunities, some of which work better than others. Much of the humour is slapstick, like the scene at the dog show, when Garfield leaps to safety in the refuge of a fat lady's pink dress.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The film is aimed at a very young audience, and if it had a better script it might have appealed to that demographic. Garfield the movie, however, just doesn't scratch it as an engaging story about an anti-hero cat with a heart of gold. Clunky and forced, the dialogue is remorselessly dull, despite the talents of Bill Murray and his efforts to make it work. There is a discord here, too, as Murray's darker side is constantly being held in check to accommodate 8 year-old sensibilities.
The discord may emanate from the original material, which is a writer's medium; daily strip cartoons rely on the combination of writing and drawing, I admit, but it's the words that turn the drawings into living matter. In Garfield's case, the adult tone of the material simply doesn't sit with the childish adaptation. The film is too condescending to be taken seriously as entertainment by children. They're much tougher critics than any adult.
The script wavers between trying to appeal to adults and aiming for cute: neither comes off. It is this lack of a confident tone that makes the film fall between two stools (or two horses, or whichever metaphor you like). The occasional laugh is drowned by ennui, and the clever animation of Garfield himself is a mere gimmick in this context.
There are some gaping holes, too, in matching Garfield's body to his human handlers, not that this would matter so much if we were engaged, enchanted, charmed or in some other way touched.
Disappointing, too, are the humans; perfunctorily written and delivered, they are as one dimensional as the screen.
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CAST: Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Stephen Tobolowsky
VOICES: Bill Murray as Garfield
PRODUCER: John Davis
DIRECTOR: Peter Hewitt
SCRIPT: Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow (comic strip - Jim Davis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Cundey
EDITOR: Peter E. Berger
MUSIC: Christophe Beck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alec Hammond
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2004
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.