Fox // 1988 // 576 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 22nd, 2004
"I hate Mondays." -- Garfield the Cat
20th Century Fox unleashed their live-action film version of the popular comic strip Garfield this past summer, complete with a CGI title cat voiced by Bill Murray. Well, you can forget that Garfield. This is Garfield.
Presumably as a tie-in to the feature film, the first 24 episodes of the long-running Saturday morning cartoon series Garfield and Friends (now in reruns on the Cartoon Network) have been released in a three-disc set, appropriately titled Garfield and Friends: Volume One. The series does a better job than the film at capturing the tone of the original Jim Davis comic strip (which, yes, I confess to having read in the Chicago Sun-Times every day in my youth). The big orange cat is pretty much the same -- though far less creepy in cel-animated form -- but his universe is much more (excuse the pun) sharply drawn. Garfield's best friend / worst enemy, Odie the dog, as well as his owner, Jon, hardly registered in the big-screen version; they were given far too nice and normal a treatment. Garfield and Friends rounds out Davis's vision (and yes, I do realize I'm talking about comic strips and cartoons here) more faithfully. Plus, each installment provides a little object lesson without beating young audiences over the head with it, from something broad like the value of imagination ("Box o' Fun") to something as specific as not eating before bedtime ("Nighty Nightmare").
Even now, as an adult, I find things in the show that still make me laugh. Sure, it doesn't quite have the grown-up sophistication of, say, The Simpsons, but let's face it -- that show isn't made for kids. Garfield and Friends probably has more in common with old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, though even that's an overstatement -- kids may respond to Bullwinkle, but there's no way they get most of the jokes until they're older. Garfield and Friends, on the other hand, is far more accessible to kids. What lends itself to adult enjoyment of the cartoon is the character of Garfield himself -- he's a kids' cartoon with grown-up sensibilities. There's a great deal of humor geared towards older audiences (the little ones probably won't know what's being referenced in the episode titled "Yojumbo" -- heck, a lot of adults probably won't either), but it's nothing that's going to alienate the younger set. It's first and foremost a kids' show.
Jim Davis's attempt to recreate his talking-animal comic strip success, the less-popular U.S. Acres, was also adapted into a series of cartoons for Garfield and Friends (I guess they would be the Friends part). It follows the exploits of a group of barnyard animals attempting to coexist with one another; unlike Garfield, there aren't any interactions with humans. This cartoon never works as well as Garfield does, most likely because there's not a strong enough central character -- with Garfield, it's his personality that drives the short regardless of the story (the same goes for something like the old Bugs Bunny / Looney Tunes shorts). In the case of U.S. Acres, the focus is divided over such a large cast of characters (including some great ones, like the Daffy Duck-esque Roy the Rooster, or Wade, a duck so neurotic he forever wears a flotation device so as not to drown) that the emphasis rests on plot, which really can't be developed inside of seven minutes.
Each episode of Garfield and Friends runs about 22 minutes and features two Garfield cartoons and one U.S. Acres cartoon, plus at least one "Quickie" of each -- a brief cartoon (lasting less than a minute) that directly recreates the original comic strips. They're presented with a 1.0 mono soundtrack and in their original 1.33:1 full frame television format, so there are no complaints there. The animation of Garfield and Friends has always had a kind of Saturday-morning crudeness, but that's forgivable for two reasons: (1) the show actually was a Saturday morning cartoon; and (2) it replicates the original Jim Davis strip accurately and faithfully -- why would we want it to look any other way? The transfers, however, are disappointing. It's a very colorful show, yet nothing looks as vibrant as it should -- it all looks dark, dull, and dated, as though not much effort was made to restore the show for DVD. I guess they're banking on the kids who watch this set not knowing or not caring much about quality, and they may be right -- though it doesn't seem fair to the rest of us.
If your kids (or you) enjoy Garfield, skip the live-action film and pick up this box set. After all, it's got to be better for them (and you) than Yu-Gi-Oh!.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 576 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site