The Garfield Movie Review: Great Animation, Lazy Story

The lack of storytelling effort here is embarrassing

Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), Odie (Harvey Guillén) and Garfield (Chris Pratt) stand together in The Garfield Movie
(Image: © Sony)

I am not a Garfield fanatic by any means, but having spent a childhood reading the funny pages and catching episodes of the animated series Garfield And Friends, I have a pretty good beat on the general appeal of the tubby, orange tabby and his world. Basically, common cat stereotypes like sleeping a lot and hating dogs are matched with a voracious appetite for lasagna and a deep-seated hatred for Mondays. As originally conceived by cartoonist Jim Davis, Garfield is a fine match of material and medium, as gags with the principal characters never get particularly complex and don’t need much more than a few panels to play out. There really isn’t enough proverbial meat on the bone to sustain the full runtime of a full feature film… but that’s not something that is registered as a hurdle to a movie industry happy to exploit any intellectual property with widespread recognition.

The Garfield Movie

Garfield on Jon in The Garfield Movie

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Release Date: May 24, 2024
Directed By: Mark Dindal
Written By: Paul A. Kaplan & Mark Torgove and David Reynolds
Starring: Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Waddingham, Ving Rhames, Nicholas Hoult, Cecily Strong, and Harvey Guillén
Rating: PG for action/peril and mild thematic elements.
Runtime: 101 minutes

This development strategy has led to the creation of director Mark Dindel’s The Garfield Movie – a film so bland it can be summed up as “101 minutes of animation.” There are familiar character designs and gags about copious consumption of Italian food, but that’s where any attempt at distinction ends, as it’s otherwise indistinguishable from any other pet-centric big screen adventure (a simple animation style change could instantly transform it into The Secret Life Of Pets 3). It doesn’t utilize what is special or unique about its titular character; instead, the energy suggests that the screenwriters spent months trying to come up with a script, came up with nothing in all that time, and then spent the night before a deadline just filling pages with words.

Instead of trying to get at the heart of what people like about the eponymous feline and understand why he’s been popular since the mid-1970s, The Garfield Movie’s tactic for telling the best Garfield story is by providing an origin nobody asked for and sending him on an adventure almost wholly populated by original characters. In a hollow flashback sequence clearly created to try and sell Baby Garfield merchandise, it’s revealed that Garfield (Chris Pratt) was left alone in an alley by his father, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), when he was a kitten, and it was in a search for food that he ended up meeting and being adopted by Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult). He doesn’t think about this much as he lives his life as a happy domesticated cat – creating no base for any kind of growth or development – and he is instead only forced to confront his past when a journey to get a midnight snack one night results in him and Jon’s dog Odie (Harvey Guillén) being kidnapped.

Garfield and Odie’s abductor is Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), a cat who was a former criminal colleague of Vic’s before a milk heist went wrong and she was sent to the city pound. Desiring revenge against Vic, Jinx forces Garfield to join his father and Odie in another attempt at the botched robbery – which puts the titular character on an adventure unlike any he’s ever experienced (mostly because it doesn’t really fit in line with any part of the character’s classic vibe).

The Garfield Movie’s story reeks of minimal effort.

It would obviously be too much to expect that The Garfield Movie would provide insightful analysis of the main character’s compulsive eating habits or explore the deep loneliness of Jon Arbuckle, but the lack of storytelling effort here is still embarrassing. The best plot idea that could be conjured behind the scenes of this feature is an idea that has been used in practically every single sitcom ever – the return of a ne'er-do-well father – and there isn’t even the slightest stab to put a new spin on it or do something inventive. There is only one sequence that actually capitalizes on one of Garfield’s defining qualities (he calls on a bunch of food delivery drones in the big third act action sequence), and there is actually far more done to betray classic trademarks of the comic strip, like Garfield’s laziness and Odie’s stupidity.

Ultimately, it can be said that The Garfield Movie earns its controversial Chris Pratt casting: Garfield might as well sound exactly like Mario or Star-Lord or Owen Grady or Emmet Brickowski because there certainly isn’t any other attempt to make the character stand out as anything beyond generic IP.

At least The Garfield Movie looks great.

Nothing in the Garfield Movie’s story derives from Garfield being Garfield, but it can at the very least be said that Garfield looks like Garfield. There is a successful translation of Jim Davis’ hand-drawn comics to 3D digital animation with smart application of both simplicity (like with Garfield’s eyes and whiskers) and heaver detail (like Garfield’s fur). As far as comic book strips being adapted as animated features go, it’s the one area where the film is on par with director Steve Martino's The Peanuts Movie from 2015.

Beyond the design, any fans of classic animation will also appreciate certain flourishes in the movie’s action beats. Moving away from the semi-realistic approach that was featured in the two live-action/animation hybrid Garfield films, there is a more cartoonish sensibility here that results in welcomed exaggerated squash and stretch fun – like sequences where Garfield attempts to board a moving train by being flinged off a bent-back tree branch and performing multiple ricochets. It’s just a shame that the throwback style is so badly let down by the project’s story choices.          

The Garfield Movie is so bad that it actually makes me have a better appreciation for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The animated Nintendo blockbuster is little more than a narrative formed around a checklist trying to squeeze in as many brand references as possible, but at the very least one can say it has a demonstrated appreciation for its source material and tries to click into what fans love about Mario. The comic strip adaptation, however, is generic to the point of having no actual identity. I respect that the target audience for this work is six year olds, but it nonetheless inspires contempt for the supposedly creative minds that would produce something this basic.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.