Judge Adam Arseneau hopes that in 20 years, landfills will be full of little stuffed plush versions of him, too.
Please do not adjust your set. All the color has temporarily gone out of Garfield's life.
Ah, for the days of the network prime-time animated special, a rare and elusive creature nary seen during these tumultuous times. But for all us tail-ender Generation X kids who spent their adolescent years in the 1980s, the prime-time network special was an event that demanded serious sacrifice of leisure time and usually popcorn. Huddled around glowing televisions, families would congregate to worship these strange standalone pieces of programming that would only appear once per year, with networks devoting entire blocks of prime-time programming to their promotion, usually six months in advance. Forget "programming on demand"…we were all at the mercy of the glowing box.
Such is the legacy of the animated Garfield television specials, which aired only once per year, from 1982 to 1991. At the time, these yearly specials were wildly popular and profitable, garnishing repeated Emmy awards and nominations, and always guaranteeing ratings gold for the network. Today, they feel as antiquated as the annual format in which they were delivered. Fox has been fortuitous enough to release the specials on DVD, spurred on by surprisingly strong sales of the animated Garfield and Friends cartoon series, which in turn was spurred on by the abysmal CGI animated live-action Garfield: The Movie. It may have taken quite the roundabout method, but these prime-time specials have finally seen the light of day, previously accessible only through nostalgic memories.
Garfield: Cat Tales is a three-disc boxed-set collection, grouping previously available DVDs into a single discounted package, featuring nine Garfield animated features in total. For previous purchasers, there is no new material here to be had, but for anyone looking to jump in for the first time, this is an attractive-looking DVD set. The episodes included are:
Garfield as Himself
Here Comes Garfield (1982)
Garfield on the Town (1983)
Garfield Gets a Life (1991)
Garfield Travel Adventures
Garfield in the Rough (1984)
Garfield in Paradise (1986)
Garfield Goes Hollywood (1987)
Garfield: His Nine Lives (1988)
Garfield's Babes & Bullets (1989)
Garfield's Feline Fantasies (1990)
Some of the features are pretty bad, like Garfield's Babes and Bullets and Garfield's Feline Fantasies, and some of the features are quite excellent, like Garfield on the Town. You can definitely see how the creators were forced to get more and more daring with the Garfield format in order to keep the material…err, fresh. The most interesting of the bunch would no doubt be Garfield: His Nine Lives, the animated adaptation of the best-selling, yet oddly esoteric, Garfield graphic novel. At times sweet, at times downright experimental, the feature plays with different animation styles and radically different conceptual notions of Garfield throughout history. Showing Garfield as everything from a royal Egyptian cat to a test animal in a laboratory research center, it is the only true experimental feature in the bunch and, as such, one of the most memorable.
Admittedly, as a comic strip and as an intellectual property, Garfield is nowhere near the hot commodity it was 15 or 20 years ago. Back then, the orange feline's celebrity warranted repeated animated features and Emmy nominations, plush dolls, and lunchboxes. Yes, Jim Davis's comic still flounders along today, but nowhere near at the level of popularity that it had once enjoyed. It is fascinating to go back and revisit these little time capsules of television animation from the height of the franchise's popularity. If you want to get deep about it, these Garfield specials are like a cross-section of a more innocent Rockwellian wholesomeness in both the consciousness of a nation and in animation entertainment, a family-friendly trend which persisted for over a decade. Watching the shows progress chronologically, one can almost feel the growing unease and dread overtaking the animation, as if foreshadowing its own demise, observing the expectations and tastes of a nation changing with growing alarm. It can also be no coincidence that these annual Garfield animations abruptly ended in the early 1990s, exactly at the time when animation began taking a different direction into edgier material like Liquid Television and The Simpsons, forever changing the medium.
And that, as they say, was that. I can't even remember the last time I saw a Garfield plush doll stuck on the inside of a car. There must be entire landfills devoted to that stuff now.
Each feature varies in terms of audio and visual quality, generally improving as the series progresses chronologically in terms of fidelity and animation quality. I like the odd pencil, crayon, and watercolor animation style of the early Garfield cartoons, which gives the entire production a dreamlike, childish quality. There seemed to be some color distortion on the left side of the frame during some of the features when viewed to correct overscan, but this is hardly a big deal. There is noticeable print damage throughout, however. It does not appear that much in the way of restoration work has been performed on these features, which is hardly surprising…unfortunate, but not surprising.
Unequivocally, the best part of these cartoons is the music, performed by the unmistakable silky baritone drawl of Lou Rawls along with co-singer Desiree Goyette. I went so far as to keep extremely old VHS copies of Garfield on the Town from back in 1983 around simply for the Rawls tunes, songs which appear absolutely nowhere else and just scream for some entrepreneurial DJ to rip them into a song. Though the majority of the features only have a straight mono presentation, the fantastic piano and electric rock numbers straight out of a Funkadelic B-side (which the subtitles helpfully describe as "upbeat instrumental music") come through with reasonable fidelity. The DVDs certainly sound better than they look.
The most glaring gaffe in Garfield: Cat Tales is the failure to include the popular Halloween, Christmas, and Thanksgiving installments, which are featured on the standalone DVD Garfield: Holiday Celebrations but absent here. This absence is somewhat conspicuous to say the least…why bother including the other three DVD compilations in a box set, and neglect to include the fourth? Completionists will be out of luck on this one.
Thankfully, what Garfield: Cat Tales does have going for it outweighs the negative. Despite the lack of the holiday episodes, this box set preserves childhood nostalgia quite nicely for future generations sprung from your loins to enjoy. It may not be on network television, but at least you can reproduce the experience in your living room, all for a very reasonable price. For anyone who grew up enjoying the yearly Garfield animated features on television, this DVD offers the most comprehensive one-stop experience in reliving the days of animated yore.
Okay, so I've got a soft spot for the cat. Shut your pie hole.
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• IMDb: Here Comes Garfield
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