Judge Aaron Bossig brings you a review of the only disc endorsed by the Lasanga Awareness Coalition.
"Kids, don't try this at home. We're trained professionals, and also,
we're cartoon characters."
Volume Two showcases the lazy appeal of Garfield and Friends. It'll let you plop down on the couch with a blanket and a bowl of cereal, because rest assured, it was too much fun to get up from. What could be more perfect than indulging in a little sugary breakfast and watching a TV show about a cat who eats and watches TV. Saturday morning with Garfield (Lorenzo Music, Rhoda, The Real Ghostbusters) could become Saturday morning as Garfield—a show that celebrated a lazy morning in front of the TV, and taking the guilt out of your guilty pleasures.
Oh yeah, the kids might enjoy it too.
Facts of the Case
Jon, Garfield, and Odie return for the second season of what would eventually become a long-running cartoon series. In addition to the regular Garfield cartoons, each episode features at least one Orson's Farm cartoon, starring Orson, Roy, Wade, and the rest of the farm animals from U.S. Acres. Although I don't think it's ever explicitly confirmed on the show, it's generally accepted that the farm is, in fact, Jon's family farm, and that's what links the two cartoons. In any case, both segments feature the same humor and style.
Small clarification: During the original run of the show, the Orson's Farm cartoons were titled U.S. Acres when shown in the US. This set labels them as Orson's Farm, though the original title can be seen in a gag from "The Mail Animal."
If Garfield and Friends were simply an animated version of an innocuous daily newspaper comic, there wouldn't be much to write here. The creators of the show took what could have been just a generic toon and crammed it full of recurring characters, guest stars, offbeat ideas, and jokes that were actually funny. What came out was a show that bordered on being animated sketch comedy: Where else could you base an entire story on a grammatical error, getting bears to agree on pizza toppings, or over-watering a mini-mall?
The writing on the show, quite simply, was exceptional. It stayed true to Jim Davis's basic comedic style, but added the extra advantages television has to offer. How many kids shows would take the effort to establish a running gag that lasts more than one season? Yeah, just count how many times the Clogman diamond makes an appearance. You'll also see quite a bit of Cactus Jake (Pat Buttram, Green Acres, Back to the Future, Part III); Garfield will comment that "He's the only guest star this show could afford," and I'm guessing that wasn't too far from the truth. Garfield and Friends proved it was all about having fun—even when the joke came at its own expense.
As for the material, it isn't written directly for older viewers like The Simpsons or Duckman, but like Animaniacs, it does contain plenty of references and wit that would be lost on kids. In this box set alone, I caught references to Twilight Zone,Star Trek,2001: A Space Odyssey, and of course, a great nod to Rhoda, acknowledging Lorenzo Music's work on both shows. It wasn't just that I caught more of the references now that I re-watch the show; some of the episodes I can actually relate to better now than before. "Video Airlines," in which Garfield explains, musically, that you can travel the world through your VCR, seemed hokey to me when I was little. Fifteen years later, I find myself coming home from work and using my DVD player to escape to London, Chicago, feudal Japan, Planet Bajor, or Jon Arbuckle's living room. All these years later, I appreciate the value in a little movie escapism. The cat was on to something.
Was it funny? All I can say is, I enjoyed quite a few laughs while reviewing this set, and can honestly say I remember laughing at the exact same jokes 15 years ago. And why not? The show can make humor out of eating pizza, watching TV, and sleeping! When the real world keeps Garfield away from his favorite pastimes, the cat's sarcasm is just an amplifier for our own feelings. Come on…who hasn't been irritated at a night of bad TV? Well, thanks to Garfield, we can see it's all a sinister plot to get us to watch "Kung-Fu Creatures on the Rampage 2."
Lastly, while the animation shows typical shortcuts and corner-cutting measures (repeated backgrounds, coloring errors), overall there is a style to it that can't be denied. If you've ever watched Jim Davis draw his classic characters, you'll see that he starts with the eyes and works his way around. When his comics are transferred to animation, those eyes become the focal points of Garfield, John, Orson, and the gang. The eyes broadcast their emotions, signal their jokes, and enhance the dialogue. This is particularly critical for Garfield himself, since he can "talk" to the audience, yet his lips never move.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I'm thrilled to get these cartoons on DVD, the quality is disappointing at best. It's a Saturday morning cartoon, which should be bright and vivid. Instead, the colors are washed out and lifeless, while the black outlines are soft and faded. A slight flicker even distracts in some scenes. Before the series had a planned DVD release, I had considered transferring some aging VHS tapes onto DVD-R. Compared to that, this set doesn't appear to be of any better quality, it merely saves me the effort.
Put into the proper context—this being an old cartoon that sat around for years before being stuck onto DVD—it's not unwatchable, it just isn't meant to be scrutinized with a microscope.
From Saturday morning cartoons, we have come to expect the worst, yet Garfield and Friends delivered the best. Volume 2 represents some of the best of what the show had to offer, and it is an easy recommendation. You'll get the full spectrum of Garfield characters, as well as both theme songs, "Friends are There" and "We're Ready to Party."
Garfield and all his friends are found not guilty and set free.
Fox is commended for their efforts to finally release this deserving TV show onto DVD, but will be cited for the lacking proper presentation standards. So that future seasons may be of better quality, the court orders them to work with three DVD-authoring experts. (cue Buddy Bears' entrance)
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