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The Garfield Movie (Film Review)

4 min read
The Garfield Movie Chris Pratt

Image: © Sony Pictures

“And that’s how I adopted Jon,” quips Garfield (Chris Pratt) after introducing the audience to his half-tragic, half-gluttonous origin story. This healthy whiff of sarcasm fits nicely in a film that orientates itself around the opposition between biological and adopted families. Between those groups you choose to be a part of, and those affiliations that are forced upon you. If this tricks you into thinking The Garfield Movie is somehow a sincere, deep dramedy about love and family, don’t worry. This is the same movie where Garfield breaks a heavy-duty set of scales by sitting on them, and in which Snoop Dogg voices a character called Snoop Cat. Sincerity sits with salad and Mondays at the bottom of the rubbish heap in Garfield’s latest cinema outing, the first since Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006). 

Left in the street by his father for unknown reasons, Garfield meets Jon (Nicholas Hoult) and the pair almost immediately become best buddies. Fast forward to the present, and Garfield is a fat, pampered cat eating, lazing, eating, sleeping, and eating his way through a comfy life, helped by his energetic and loyal housemate Odie the Dog (Harvey Guillén). This changes when Garfield’s estranged father Vic (Samuel L. Jackson) returns. Garfield is suddenly whisked away on a high-stakes, high-octane adventure that features drone-delivered pizzas, a melancholic bull, and a dog who stores his phone in an unusual place on his body.

Casting off live-action for a 3D-animated romp for The Garfield Movie was a wise decision. Suddenly, the film can toy with visuals and form in ways that just weren’t possible before. It isn’t pushing itself to reinvent the wheel like other Sony projects such as the Spider-Verse films or The Mitchells vs. the Machines, but veteran filmmaker Mark Dindal has the confidence to throw his creative all at making the story pop and stand out just as much as any colourful comic strip. Quite often the biggest grin you will get is simply by soaking up the colourful inventiveness of the film’s presentation. The visual effects and animation team have worked wonders to grant every character such a wonderful range of expressiveness, refusing to shirk any physical detail. 

The visuals outperform the story, which feels (perhaps predictably) blander than a reduced-fat lasagne. The inclusion of smartphones, while inevitable, never really feels natural, particularly when they are one of the only things stopping the film from being feasibly set at any time in the past 30 years. The explanation for why Vic left Garfield all those years ago also feels like an immense anti-climax, and the film never fully recovers from this even when the relationship between father and son starts to blossom. Hannah Waddingham’s villainous Persian cat Jinx also feels like a letdown; a baddie who gets to play the unhinged evil angle well but whose true motives are never hard to decipher. 

She isn’t the only one. Aside Vic and Garfield, all of the other characters lack detail—even Jon (and Hoult is strangely underused in what has to be one of the most vanilla main roles of his career). The Garfield Movie playfully skirts around Jon’s evident, crippling loneliness, with the ever-patient owner’s emotional toil forming kindling for quickfire humour rather than any kind of slow-burning, substantial subplot. Too many of the supporting cast feel like they exist purely to help the father-son story move along to the next step, and you can’t help but wonder how much more engaging they would be if this wasn’t the case.

The voice cast, however, works their magic. Pratt has the kind of cheery, smarmy, and borderline narcissistic energy that lends itself perfectly to Garfield. He brings out all of Garfield’s defining qualities while not sliding into a by-the-numbers performance as the world’s most famous fat ginger tabby. He largely avoids the dryness of Bill Murray’s well-known portrayal, and to Pratt’s credit he loses himself in the role far more easily than Murray ever did. Jackson and Waddingham too have a ball in their roles, with Jackson especially bringing a gruffness and (dare we way) player energy to Vic that makes his character consistently fun to watch. They are all however playing second fiddle to the immense presence of Ving Rhames. Rhames’ heavy-hearted portrayal of Otto the Bull is powerful, moving, and hilarious all in one fell swoop, with a wondrously magnetic voice to boot. 

The script comes up short, but the visuals and performances still easily make this Garfield’s best big-screen outing. Not as unwittingly bizarre or tonally wayward as the live-action films, The Garfield Movie is a pacy, funny, and family-focused affair that hits almost all of its not-so-lofty targets. For every superficial-feeling moment or cringy piece of writing, there is a shot of Garfield eating an entire pizza in one stretch-mouthed bite or engaging in a full-blown conversation with his own stomach. Dindal pretty much nails the tone, and it just about proves to be enough. The success of Garfield, much like his waistline, can only get bigger from here. 

The Garfield Movie is released in cinemas worldwide on 24th May 2024.