Judge Joel Pearce got stuck in the real world once—it's a scary place!
See Garfield as never before in his all-new CGI feature-length movie!
Being a comic strip artist must be an incredible challenge. After all, you would need to produce a new funny strip each day, maintain consistency with the world that you've created, and not overlap on your jokes too much. That said, I think the quality I respect most about comic book artists is the ability to know when to stop. I was upset when Bill Watterson got frustrated with the format and put an end to Calvin and Hobbes. A little part of my died when Gary Larson announced that he had run out of ideas for The Far Side. Looking back, though, I'm so glad that my two favorite comic strips haven't become what Garfield has: a tired repetition of old jokes that fizzled decades ago.
I know that sounds harsh, but it comes from a guy who loved Garfield as a kid. It also highlights the two challenges that Jim Davis has in creating a feature-length film for his creation to play around in. First, he needs to find a way to tell a long story while still staying true to the roots as a comic strip. Second, he needs to take the character in a valuable direction in this new medium.
Well, Davis has certainly given that first challenge a shot with Garfield Gets Real. It spins a wild story about how the comics get made, as actors from Comic World get filmed each day and the still images from the shoot get frozen into a simplistic drawing style and zapped to each newspaper in the world. I guess they must have an extra long day on Saturday. Then, they sit back and watch people enjoy the strips. It's an idyllic life, but Garfield feels that he's in a rut, and decides to travel to the real world instead, from which there is no return. Of course, he quickly realizes that he prefers his other life, and needs to find a way for he and Odie to get home before the strip is replaced.
Garfield Gets Real has a cute premise, but there are several serious problems with the execution. Firstly, the film just doesn't make sense. It's an unnecessarily complicated explanation for how comics are made, and it raises a number of unanswerable questions, like how its possible for the Garfield replacements to be hired in the real world, but he doesn't have a way back home. To make things more complicated, there's very little difference between the world of comics and the real world. They are both relentlessly cartoony, and although Garfield talks about the way they can be truly hurt in the real world, both he and Odie take some serious beatings and walk away unscathed.
For a kid oriented film, though, consistency problems aren't a real deal-breaker. The pacing, however, is. Garfield Gets Real is the slowest kids' movie I have ever seen in my life. This is ironic considering the source material—as you read a Garfield anthology you expect a new joke every few seconds. Here, the plot and jokes move as slowly as the titular character, so even the most wide-eyed little tykes are bound to get bored in a hurry. It's really just a 30 minute episode stretched out to feature length, and there aren't many jokes in that running time. It feels so separated from the original strip that I was shocked to see that Jim Davis was directly involved, and even wrote the screenplay himself.
Whatever I can say about the film itself, I have to admit that Fox did a hell of a job on this DVD. The transfer looks great, even though the animation would have been a lot more dazzling about five years ago. The sound is as clean as you could expect, too. The disc is packed with special features, starting with an interview with Jim Davis. He seems like a very willing participant in the film, which makes me suspect that he has probably just lost sight of his demographic somewhere along the way. Davis also takes kids through the real production process, which has expanded to a four-man team over time. We also get to see the animation production of this film in several featurettes. To cap it all off, there are several games, both for set-top DVD players and DVD-ROM.
If Jim Davis had tossed this off and simply let another crew use his license, I would accuse him of selling out. It's not, though, because this is obviously a direction that he wanted to go with his own property. And that's a sad thing, because the result is so disappointing. Garfield has long passed his prime as a character, and films like this only serve to emphasize that fact. I fear, when all is said and done, that even the most die-hard fans of Garfield would have been better served if Davis had known when the license had reached its logical end.
That said, I certainly can't fault Fox for their fine treatment of this minor slice of animation.
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