Film reviews and more since 2009

Garfield: The Movie (2004) review

Dir. Peter Hewitt

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

I’ve bemoaned the lack of quality cat representation in film for about as long as I’ve been writing. As a cat-lover since a child, having lived with one for most of my young and now adult life, I resent the fact that most cats depicted in (American) cinema are portrayed as villains or as blanketly evil mongrels. I’ve chalked it — and the fact that dogs remain massively more popular than their counterpart — up to my belief that it takes time for a human to build a quality relationship with a cat. You want a dog you’ve never met before to love you? Give him/her a treat and it’ll never not trust you.

Despite focusing on the laziest, most self-centered feline ever committed to a comic strip, Garfield: The Movie has some serious charm as both an adaptation and a kids movie. For one, it nails the spirit of both the comics and the animated series by predicating itself on the apathetic attitude of its titular character. Then it peppers its admittedly threadbare plot with a couple of exciting sequences that force its apathetic cat out of its comfort zone, thereby turning him into a reluctant hero. Finally, it’s just cute and inherently sweet enough to make 80 minutes race by.

The loose plot involves Garfield (voiced by Bill Murray) — the wise-cracking cat whose speaking voice isn’t audible to humans, mind you — whose idyllic life of lasagna and cable television with his bland human, Jon (Breckin Meyer), is interrupted upon the introduction of a dog named Odie. Jon adopts Odie at a local animal shelter after a failed attempt to flirt with the cute veterinarian, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt). In effort to establish both Jon’s abode and their quite cul-de-sac as his turf, Garfield locks Odie out of the house one evening. The interloping dog is then taken by Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a local TV personality whose career is in free-fall and in need of a spark, forcing Garfield, out of guilt, to leave his home to retrieve Odie.

I recall first seeing Garfield: The Movie in theaters with my grandmother at about seven-years-old. As a member of the film’s target audience, I enjoyed it. Revisiting it as an adult, with health insurance and back pain, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I laughed too often and too frequently to deny that this is a solid adaptation of the Garfield comic.

The first positive is Bill Murray, who nails Garfield’s apathetic tone and attitude. So much of the script (penned by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow) is predicated on Garfield’s reaction to the world around him, be it Jon inviting a new dog into their home, the neighborhood pets shunning him after ousting Odie, or navigating Happy Chapman’s green room and studio in the third act. Even as smug as Garfield can be, Murray retains a sweetness to him; one that’s obviously compounded by his appearance. He is the only CGI creation in the film, whereas the other animals are “real” (Odie is the only animal who doesn’t talk). He’s plump, squishy, and adorable. As he should be.

The fledging love story between Jon and Liz is cute enough to pass, but not prominent enough to distract from the draw of the movie. There are many ways Garfield: The Movie could’ve gone awry, but it’s an inspired little kids movie that does justice to its origins as a simple comic strip that reminded people of the eternal appeal of the superior species of pet.

NOTE: As of this writing, Garfield: The Movie is available to stream on Disney+.

My review of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties
My review of The Garfield Movie (2024)

Starring: Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Stephen Tobolowsky. Voiced by: Bill Murray, Alan Cumming, Nick Cannon, David Eigenberg, Brad Garrett, Jimmy Kimmel, Debra Messing, and Richard Kind. Directed by: Peter Hewitt.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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