THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The funny pages are filled with likable characters, but few are as enduring or popular as Garfield. As far as comic strips go, I’ve personally always preferred the brilliant absurdity of, say, Gary Larson’s “Far Side” strips. I have nothing against Garfield, though. It rarely makes me laugh out loud, although it has made me smile more than once.

In the film version, Breckin Meyer plays Jon, owner of the world’s laziest, most sarcastic lasagna-loving cat. Although Jon is, by his pet’s admission, a bit of a dork sometimes, he’s basically a decent guy. One particular afternoon, he takes Garfield to the vet for one more unnecessary visit. The cat is smart enough to know that Jon has a crush on the doctor, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Just as he’s about to make a move and ask her out, Liz convinces Jon to adopt a dog named Odie. This does not sit well with Garfield, who now has to share his owner’s attention with another pet. He tries everything possible to get rid of the pooch, to no avail.

Jon and Liz are drawn closer when Odie is dognapped by an obnoxious TV personality named Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowski). Happy has plans to use an inhumane shock collar on Odie in order to teach him tricks that will land them on a bigger, better TV show. With Garfield’s help, Jon and Liz set out to rescue Odie.

Okay, can we please put a moratorium on movie plots in which pets get kidnapped? A lot of family films feel the need to have some sort of action or conflict, so they resort to an animal getting snatched. We saw it in Beethoven and the live action 101 Dalmatians as well as in plenty of other films. It’s old, it’s been done before, let’s put a stop to it, okay?

Besides, you don’t really need all that silliness when a better plot is right there. Garfield: The Movie is best when it deals with the cat’s jealousy – and eventual acceptance - of the dog. That’s enough of a story right there. The scenes in which Garfield tries to reassert his position as Alpha Pet are quite funny on their own. Odie makes a good foil, too; he’s innocent and goofy where Garfield is cynical and smart. The screenplay by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow has a lot of unexpectedly sharp scenes and lines of dialogue that convey a clever idea: pets will engage in a competition for their owner’s love – and the owner will not even realize it.

That idea is captured beautifully by Bill Murray, who does a masterful job providing the voice of Garfield. Murray does a very smart thing: he finds the character. A lot of actors might have just phoned in the performance. Not Murray. He captures Garfield’s many moods and the perverse pleasure he takes from the misfortunes of others. I think the Garfield comic strip has always been popular largely because the central character has such a wonderfully pervasive attitude of sarcasm. It’s essential to the creation, and Murray gets it right.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Garfield: The Movie. Sure, the dognapping plot is silly, and the human characters are essentially wasted. Even so, I laughed at Garfield’s antics, his rivalry with Odie, and the tremendous voice work of Bill Murray. This isn’t on the same level as Shrek 2 or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but I recommend it as a family film that kids will enjoy and adults will find unexpectedly pleasant.

( out of four)

Garfield: The Movie is rated PG for brief mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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