directed by Peter Hewitt
(20th Century Fox, 2004)
Jim Carrey turned down the role of Jon Arbuckle in 2004's mostly live-action interpretation of the cartoon cat, Garfield.
Thank you, Jim.
Jon, as anyone who reads the comic strip by Jim Davis knows, is a bland and colorless man, a sadsack whose life is dominated by the forceful personality of his lasagna-hogging cat. Carrey would have made it an entirely different film, no doubt necessitating a title change (Arbuckle?) to make it work.
Breckin Meyer shouldn't take it as an insult when I say he suits the role far, far better. Meyer knows when to fade into the background, when to dampen his personality under a layer or two of wet blanket. Meyer lets the cat -- a CGI effect, no less -- run the show.
Let's face it, Garfield is about Garfield, a fat, overly pampered house cat. And as the voice of the cat, casting Bill Murray was an absolute stroke of genius. He has the attitude. He's perfect.
The CGI effects are nearly so. Check out the lines of Garfield's fur to see how good a job the graphics team has done. Still, you never really get the sense that Garfield is entirely grounded in the film; he always looks like the effect he is. (Truth be told, Garfield looks better than the other talking cats and dogs, who are real with CGI-enhanced mouths.)
Jon's dog Odie, on the other hand, is an actual dog without embellishment, and he suits the role of loyal but slightly dim canine quite well. His dance routine with Garfield is a priceless moment of animal cinematography!
That said, the plot is fairly uninteresting. The introduction of a dog into Garfield's cat-ruled house could have carried the film on its own, but the subplot with its nefarious TV show host (Stephen Tobolowsky as Happy Chapman) in search of a new animal act is just plain dumb. More promising is Jon's budding romance with Dr. Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), his veterinarian, because Jon never gets the girl in the strip -- but that subplot is steamrolled by Chapman's evil schemes and Garfield's big adventure and rescue.
Garfield is a winner for children, who will be delighted by the fat cat's antics and droll humor, and who will no doubt find Chapman's kidnapping scheme to be Quite Exciting, Too. For adults, the film remains disappointingly shallow -- but Murray is possibly enough of a reason to sit through this one with your kids. (My wife disagrees on this last point, by the way.)