Today, I finally got to see the movie I’ve pretty much waited my whole life for… Garfield the Movie.

What can I say, I’m a life-long fan. I’ve been reading him since the first grade(or earlier), and he taught me how to draw.

And despite what some people may say about it, it’s a pretty good movie. #4 at the box office ain’t too shabby for this flabby tabby(sorry, couldn’t help that one).

Critics? Pfah, what do critics know? A lot of them wouldn’t know a good movie if it bit them in the ass. Harry Potter, Titanic, Spider-man, or Terminator it ain’t, but then, it’s not supposed to be. He’s not out to save the world, change the future, fall in love, or deal with school bullies that ride broomsticks. What they did was manage to focus on the character, and with that in mind, the movie goes a long way.

Characterization in the movie was sort of all over the place. Nermal, who looked nothing like Nermal, didn’t really show any of his attributes other than just being dense. They could have easily renamed him(yes, Nermal is a he), and no one would have been the wiser. He bugs Garfield still, but it’s more by pointing out the obvious and hitting him over the head with it, rather than gloating about being the world’s “CUUUUUUUUUUTEST kitty-cat.” Whereas the original has this sort of naive quality to him, this one comes off more as a comic sidekick. All in all, it works. Just not the way it should for Nermal. And the astronaut routine is no substitute for air-mail to Abu Dhabi(yes, it’s real, I once did a report on it).

Louis the rat was entertaining, too. Fortunately, most mice in Garfield are fairly generic, so making this one stand out was easy, and Nick Cannon’s voicework went well for it; I rather like him and wouldn’t mind seeing more of him elsewhere.

Rounding out the main animal co-stars are Arlene, who looked absolutely nothing like Arlene, and Luca, the big, bad, and dumb dog that Garfield gets his kicks outsmarting. I don’t know why, but there’s something about Luca that makes him more endearing than all the other “Beware of Dog” types you see in the comics. As for Arlene, hers was a bit part, so while she bore little resemblance to comic Arlene, she was voiced and scripted well, so there’s not much to take offense to there.

Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt, who are the two main human stars as Jon Arbuckle and Liz Wilson, respectively, manage to pull it off. Jon is sort of wishy-washy and clutzy, just two of his many traits that seem to get his picture in the dictionary next to the word “jerk.” Liz… was very un-Liz-like. Liz has always had this attitude about her where you just knew she’d rather be somewhere else, especially if somewhere else doesn’t have Jon there. In this movie though, that is SO turned around, the character is practically unrecognizable, right down to the happy ending. This isn’t a slant against JLH, she played her part well. But like some others, the part isn’t quite one people will recognize.

Odie probably came out the best of all of the animals short of Garfield for portrayal. He seems about as slow, dim, and loyal as the original. It’s a true shame they didn’t do for him what they did for Garfield, graphically. While he acts enough like Odie, he just doesn’t really look the part. Without the huge tongue spreading drool everywhere, he looks like… a dog. Not even the right kind of dog, either. But he grows on you, and works well enough with Garfield on screen that it almost becomes forgivable. Maybe in the sequel, he’ll get the animated equal to Garfield. But in this one, the two dogs who play Odie(twins, one male and one female) do quite well, and might even grow on you. Oh, and the dog knows how to dance, for real, too. :)

So what we have so far is characters that don’t look like who they’re based on, characters who don’t act like who they’re based on, and all in all, it seems like the whole thing should’ve been canned at Day 1.

But you know what? They did what I hoped they would do, and it not only saves the entire movie, but makes it worth watching. And it’s a very simple thing indeed…

They made Garfield the star.

Garfield is the title character, the only completely computer-generated character, and is truly what carries the movie from start to finish. Bill Murray’s voicing is spot-on, and I occassionally had to remind myself that it wasn’t Music doing the voicing, though there are the occassional points where you can more easily tell; Murray’s voice tends to convey a little more scale as far as emotion and such, whereas most of the time, Lorenzo Music carried Garfield as an extreme monotone. It basically amounts to two similar voice actors approaching the character in two similar but slightly different ways that both work.

Garfield’s look comes together well, too. It’s like a mix of the older, early-80s Garfield, the more modern Garfield, and a real cat. It comes off really well, in my opinion.

Truth be told, Garfield has all the best scenes… as he should, it IS his movie. And while a lot of people feel you can’t do anything with a cat who’s known for eating and sleeping, it’s really just not true. Garfield is less about what he does, and more about how he acts, and this movie sees him act out in a lot of different ways, none of them really out of character for him. If anything really falls short, it’s that he acts as less of a cartoon than he’s known for. Rather than elaborate trappings or devices to send Jon flying through the air as he wakes up in the morning, he does the job with a simple cannonball from a high-up place. My memory is a bit rusty, but Garfield weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 pounds… pretty heavy for a cat. So while it’s not as elaborate as a scary mask or doing a Mexican hat dance on Jon’s face, you know it gets the job done.

The only other odd thing is that they made Garfield a bit more “hip” than he usually tends to be; Jim Davis usually tries to keep Garfield’s humor universal and timeless, and they didn’t go that route in the movie. Not really a bad thing, but it does make for a different twist.

Garfield definitely has a lot of personality in this movie, maybe more than anyone realized.

So all in all, Garfield the Movie does a lot of things differently. Not badly, but differently. Fortunately, they kept the most important element intact, that of course being Garfield. I’ve seen a lot of movies based on licensed properties, and many have come out worse than this… a lot worse, in some cases. But if you like Garfield, and I especially mean Garfield, this is a good movie to check out. And if you go in with an open mind, the others might grow on you, too. :) All in all, you can do far worse things with 80 minutes… like we did, waiting outside a comic book store for over an hour whose owner left a sign saying he’d be back in 30 before we got there.

Personally, I look forward to the DVD.

LBD “Nytetrayn”