A correction was made to this review on June 14, 2004.
Only very small children still easily impressed by interaction of human actors and CGI quadrupeds will be amused by “Garfield: The Movie.” Tepid kidpic based on long-running comic strip about a lasagna-loving cat and his chronically clueless owner will be hard-pressed to generate even respectable matinee biz during theatrical play. To attract maximum potential aud, Fox will have to wait until this kitty litters vidstore shelves.
Casting Bill Murray as the voice for Garfield, the famously indolent orange tabby, may have seemed promising in pitch meetings. On the screen, however, seemingly perfect match-up has, at best, modestly funny payoff. It doesn’t help much that, even while cracking wise or tossing insults, Murray sounds curiously disengaged, if not downright bored. But it helps even less that, except for greatly improved f/x, drearily retro pic resembles nothing so much as a lesser live-action Disney comedy of 30 years ago.
Opening scenes dutifully establish computer-generated Garfield as a lazy feline who easily manipulates Jon (Breckin Meyer), his nominal owner, and just about every other animal in his neighborhood. (Cats, dogs and even mice are portrayed by real critters enhanced with CGI tweaking.) Trouble arises in paradise only when Jon — eager to impress Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a leggy veterinarian — agrees to adopt Odie, a pint-sized mongrel in need of a good home.
Not surprisingly, Garfield resents having to share Jon’s affections with what he indelicately dubs a “dumb animal.” (Unlike Garfield and his four-legged friends, who freely converse with each other without being understood by humans, Odie can’t talk.) But the yapping canine responds to Garfield’s every put-down or push-off with avid affection and happy-go-lucky glee. Indeed, Odie even learns to mimic Garfield’s disco-dance moves. Unfortunately, his frisky footwork attracts the attention of Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), a local TV personality who seizes the pooch as his ticket to network stardom.
Directed with minimal pizzazz by Pete Hewitt (“Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”) from a bland script by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (“Cheaper by the Dozen”), pic lopes along at torpid pace as Garfield tries to redeem himself by rescuing Odie. Alan Cumming and Jimmy Kimmel are among the notables who earn mild chuckles while speaking for other animals. Human co-stars go through their motions without embarrassing or distinguishing themselves.
Overall, “Garfield: The Movie” looks cheerlessly drab, even with a pudgy orange cat bouncing off the walls. The juxtaposition of CGI creatures with flesh-and-blood characters is generally seamless, yet surprisingly unremarkable. Pic inadvertently serves as a cautionary object lesson: Novelty value of such high-tech trickery simply isn’t what it used to be.