Film Review – The Garfield Movie

The Garfield Movie

The Garfield Movie

The joy of the Garfield comic strip was in its simplicity. In just a few bite-sized portions, readers could ascertain the entire dynamic of the characters. Garfield was the wisecracking orange cat who loved lasagna. He treated the human Jon Arbuckle more as a roommate than an owner. Odie was the lovable yet dimwitted dog that Garfield didn’t so much like than tolerated. Their adventures were short interactions – sometimes consisting of just three panels – that were cute, clever, and never overstayed their welcome. The strips were amusing but not laugh out loud funny, and only took a few seconds to read through. The charm came from how well they made use of their limited space. 

Which makes me wonder what on earth was going on with The Garfield Movie (2024). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a big screen adaptation of this property. The live action films – with Bill Murray voicing Garfield – come to mind. But what makes this iteration so bizarre is how so unlike it is to the source material. Director Mark Dindal (along with screenwriters Paul A. KaplanMark Torgove, and David Reynolds) have crafted a narrative that is so far removed from the tone of the comic strip that the only similarities are the title and character designs. This has all the facets of an IP cash grab. It banks on name recognition but lacks the same kind of spirit. I don’t mind adaptations taking liberties to find something fresh within a familiar framework. But in this instance things have gone way overboard.


If we step back and see this from a broader perspective, it can be argued that the overall result is fine. It is not overtly offensive, doesn’t get too extreme or frightening, and has plenty of energy from start to finish. Younger kids will find this to be a totally acceptable distraction. But for the grownups who read the comic strips (or even watched the animated show from the ‘80s/’90s), they may find themselves mortified. This is a hyperkinetic, screwball adventure that relies heavily on slapstick gags. For example, there is an action scene – yes, an action scene – where Garfield (Chris Pratt) gets tossed between two trees like a tennis ball. Does anyone remember this happening in the comic strip or any of the other adaptations? There is such a breathless pace, indicative of modern animation, that doesn’t feel right in the world of Garfield. The quick cut editing and relentless sight gags feels more akin to the Despicable Me (2010) franchise than the one starring a lazy, self-absorbed housecat.    

The storyline is even more of a headscratcher. Instead of following the everyday lives of Garfield, Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult), and Odie, we get whisked into a high stakes mission that operates more like a heist film. After getting kidnapped by the villainous feline Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), Garfield and Odie are forced to steal milk from a world-famous farm. Along for the ride is Vic (Samuel L. Jackson) who just happens to be Garfield’s estranged father. The brunt of the emotional story involves Vic and Garfield’s broken relationship, and how that dynamic strengthens or disintegrates in a high-pressure situation. Another character of note is Otto (Ving Rhames), a once famous ox who is now stuck in a rut because the love of his life – a cow – is trapped on the same farm. I mention Otto because astute viewers will recognize Rhames’ voice, notice the heist-like set up, and see the obvious parallels to the Mission: Impossible series. It’s IP overload!

The Garfield Movie works best when it zeroes in on character motivations and dials back on the wackiness. The opening sequence might be the best, in which Garfield reminisces on the first time he met Jon Arbuckle. Through narration, Garfield describes how – as a kitten – he was abandoned by his father, found Jon Arbuckle sitting alone in an Italian restaurant, and quickly established a connection. There is some nice visual information shared in this section. When Jon looks over to a family having fun while eating dinner, we immediately sense his desire to have a family of his own. That’s the reason why he bonds with Garfield immediately, even though it’s apparent that the cat brings a whole set of new challenges. I wish there were more scenes of Garfield and Jon developing their relationship, creating a clear contrast with the dynamic between Garfield and Vic. But alas, the film does not seem too interested in exploring that avenue. In fact, a quick montage skims over the early years to get us to the present so that the hijinks may ensue. 


The film’s biggest problem is its lack of identity. The writing and direction do not give this a distinctive personality. The plot is a generic blueprint of events we have seen countless times before, to the point that these characters could be replaced with any other cat, dog, or human and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. As a counter example, I would suggest you check out The Peanuts Movie (2015), which was also based on a beloved comic strip. In that, the production stayed true to the tenor of the source material, while also trying new things in terms of storytelling and animation. Where The Peanuts Movie was a success, The Garfield Movie comes up short. 

It’s not that I think this is a terrible movie. However, it blatantly uses a familiar brand while doing little to translate what made that brand popular in the first place. It’s geared to appease the largest audience and sell as many tickets as possible. Yes, I’m sure most filmmakers would be happy if their work turned a profit, but here the “work” feels like empty calories. The entire time watching it, I just thought to myself, “So what?”




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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