Eight extra minutes of footage? Is a Criterion edition next? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart asks these tough questions as he reviews the complete Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.
"He's not even a cat formerly known as Prince."
What kind of change could shock comic strip readers more than Blondie starting a business or Cathy getting married? Jon Arbuckle getting a date! The unimaginable actually happened to Garfield's hapless human in July, when Liz the Vet became his sweetie, ending 28 years of funny pages romantic flops.
It appears that the comic strip Garfield might be trying to keep up with the movies, which found Jon proposing to Liz in Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, which plops a CGI-animated fat cat into a live-action movie. Since the movie took in more than $137 million in global box office, the two are likely to tie the knot in a third movie.
Jim Davis risked the wrath of perhaps billions of readers (Garfield is, after all, the world's most popular comic strip) to get these two together just in time for the DVD release. Will the movie bring that wrath to a boil or dissipate it?
Facts of the Case
"Once upon a time in an English castle, far, far away, there lived a pampered personage by the name of Prince. Prince knew no other life than a life of luxury. Oh, did I mention Prince was a cat?"
It also bears mentioning, although the narrator didn't, that Prince resembles a famous comic strip cat …
"On the other side of the world, there lived an equally pampered cat, who thought he was a king, but ruled over a slightly smaller domain."
As the movie opens, Garfield's domain is in turmoil, since Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer, Robot Chicken) is about to propose to Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ghost Whisperer). "She's a girl. Worse yet, she's a girl vet," Garfield complains. Not that Jon can hear him. He's too busy trying to find the engagement ring; without the important prop, he can't find the words to propose. Making things worse, Liz is on her way to England to speak before the Royal Animal Conservancy.
Naturally, Jon finds the ring just a few minutes too late, so he has to follow his love to England. He's not planning to take Garfield and Odie along, but they make a jailbreak from the kennel even as Jon's still filling out the paperwork. Hiding in Jon's luggage, his two companion animals join him for the journey.
Meanwhile, the news that Prince has inherited Aunt Eleanor's estate doesn't sit well with Lord Dargis (Billy Connolly, Head of the Class), whose murderous intentions are revealed after he's shown that even tourists are more interested in the orange feline. Dargis sends Prince down the river in a picnic basket, hoping that the Thames will turn out more like the Styx for his animal adversary.
It would figure that Prince's butler would spot Garfield on the street and toss the tabby into the back of the family limo just as the real Prince emerges from the sewer in time for Jon to wonder how his cat got so filthy.
Will Liz accept Jon's romantic proposal? Will Garfield manage to survive Lord Dargis's attacks? Will Prince be restored to his throne? Even your five-year-old will be able to figure out the answers to these stumpers quickly.
I had low expectations of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, since the reviews when it came out in June didn't sound enthusiastic about it. The movie exceeded those expectations. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and I smiled at quite a few of the jokes.
When Garfield slid joyously along the slippery floor of Prince's mansion, crashing into vases and statues, and taught the estate animals to bake a lasagna, I laughed. A scene in which Winston, Prince's right-hand bulldog, retrains Dargis's guard dog so he'll find a target tastier than Garfield brought smiles, although the anticipation and buildup on this gag turned out funnier than the final payoff. You're also likely to get chuckles as Garfield and Prince try each other's favorite dishes: When Jon presents Prince a plate of lasagna, he says, "You do realize I'm a cat, don't you, sir?"; meanwhile, Garfield has to contend with Prince's beloved Carlyle log, "a savory of liver and spleen served in a sleeve of sheep's intestines."
Bill Murray's deadpan voice work made Garfield's asides likeable, though they weren't all gems. Like many a Murray character, Garfield is all about cutting loose and partying (though not too hardy for younger viewers). Garfield's realization that he's got it pretty good at Jon's house is obvious, but it's easy to believe as voiced by Murray. Tim Curry voices Prince, Garfield's British twin, with suitably snobbish tones that still clue us in on his noble nature as he watches over the estate animals. Of the many animal voices, though, I thought Bob Hoskins's turn as Winston worked the best, as he hid his dismay at the feline switch while clueing in Garfield about castle life. Though he didn't get any lines, the dog that played Odie seemed as animated as Wallace's Gromit as he urged Prince and Jon to action at several points in the movie.
Among the human actors, Billy Connolly as Lord Dargis steals the show with his sinister slapstick. Though his plans are transparent, at least to the animals and the viewers, he plays the two-faced nobleman with glee. His portrayal shows us the gears turning in his head as he schemes to rid the world of fat orange cats. In the romantic subplot, Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt reminded me of the romantic couples in old Will Rogers or Laurel and Hardy flicks. Their story didn't mesh well with the sillier Garfield goings-on and just slowed things down a bit; the comic strip is mining more laughs from the same concept.
Even with video-like montages to pad it out, the movie clocked in at a mere 78 minutes in theaters. This DVD offers a full-screen theatrical version and an extended widescreen version. It appears that two scenes, including an animal pool party, were added to fill the movie out to 86 minutes; the scenes provide chuckles but aren't necessary to the narrative. Of course, they might have been able to squeeze the narrative into a half-hour animated special, so the recuts seem more commercial than artistic. I had no complaints with the picture or audio; the London scenery and the lush gardens of Prince's estate look good. The CGI-animated Garfield looks surprisingly natural on screen.
What's in the extras? A music video called "Come and Get It," in which the "it," of course, is lasagna, turkey legs, and mince pie. "Drawing With Jim Davis" shows the cartoonist drawing Garfield, Odie, and Pooky, and offering advice so you can try your hand at sketching his characters. Two games—"Odie's Photo Album" and "Garfield's Maze"—can be played on the DVD player. The games aren't too hard, but you'll need to get your remote thumb in practice. And, oh yes, the exclusive comic strip riffs on the movie's tagline, "It's good to be the king."
The movie's mostly harmless, despite Garfield's impression of Hannibal Lecter, some fart and belch jokes, and repeat attacks on Lord Dargis's trousers—while he's still in them—by several of the canine characters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I did laugh a few times and smile at most of the silliness, this slight mix of slapstick and mild romantic comedy is more geared toward smiles than belly laughs. The movie's no disaster, but it's hardly a must-see picture, either.
Plus, I'd rather see Liz run off with Cathy's Irving than ruin a perfectly good comic strip with a romantic turn.
Despite Jon's romantic entanglements, I'll have to admit that Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties took fewer liberties with the source material than this summer's Over the Hedge. It even finds a few newish chuckles in jokes you've seen for years in the comics.
Not guilty, though I'm not pleased with the plot spillover into Garfield. The judge urges Garfield's keeper, Jim Davis, to be very careful with any new plot twists in Garfield 3: Nermal's Revenge.
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