For adults, cartoons can be used as a way to bring the crazy kids of the household to a muted bliss. The bright colors, the silly voices, the zany adventures, and the familiarity of the characters will keep children occupied for hours on end and give parents a break from having to watch over them every minute of the day. Some cartoons can be shared by adults and their children, but not when it’s a 74-minute, straight-to-video release called Garfield Gets Real. Let’s get real, folks, this one’s strictly for the kids.
Garfield (Frank Welker) is tired of doing the same thing over and over again. He needs a break from the daily grind of showing up at the comic strip studio to make a three-frame strip for the daily newspapers. He wants some excitement in his life outside of hassling Jon Arbuckle (Wally Wingert) or kicking Odie (Gregg Berger) around the house. When he learns of a portal to the “real world” at the studio where he shoots the comic strip, he takes the plunge and flees his comfortable life in cartoon world for a life in the “real world.” It is in the “real world” that Garfield discovers that real-life felines don’t enjoy the same benefits as cartoon cats. They’re not fed the same, they aren’t always given proper shelter, and bloodthirsty chihuahuas or bodybuilding canines challenge him at every turn. It’s not until he is threatened to be replaced in the comics that he realizes how great his life is with Jon and Odie.
Part of the reason Garfield has been around for almost 30 years is because he makes wisecracks at the human that cares for him, pushes a dog around like he’s a rag doll, sleeps all the time, and eats loads of lasagna. Garfield Gets Real, in a way, shows him off to a new generation of adoring fans. Besides the two live action Garfield movies, where the tubby kitty was voiced by Bill Murray, he has not been shown in many other ways outside of the newspaper and the Thanksgiving Day parade. Now, he has a 74-minute CGI animated feature film to help him reach more and more younger fans, and it should work because the colors are vivid, the storyline is simple and has good morals, and parents will buy it because they know the character from their youth.
The animation is impressive, especially when there are extreme close-ups of the characters and the objects surrounding them – when the animation pulls away from the action, it is not as impressive. The characters tend to walk with a little stiffness, and talk a little slower than most cartoons, but it doesn’t really take away from the experience. There are a lot of creative moments displayed by Garfield creator Jim Davis, who wrote the script for the toon. One of the greatest parts is how they set up a movie studio with alternating sets for the shooting of the daily comic strips. There is a director telling the characters what to do in each scene, as Garfield and friends speak their lines and get still photographs taken of them. These images are transferred to a laptop where Betty (Audrey Wasilewski) puts the three-frame cartoon we see on a daily basis together before it is all placed on a big screen (or the newspaper). All of the characters then come back in the studio to watch the production on a big movie screen. It is a clever and imaginative way to describe the comic-making process.
While that is very creative, I find the way they made the characters voyeurs by allowing them to view families reading their comics through the newspaper was kind of disturbing. I’m sorry, but the last thing I want to think about when I pick up the Sunday comics section is that some fat cat and his friends are looking up at me wondering if I find him and his antics funny. I know it’s a creative thought, but what if I decided to read my comics in the nude? I don’t need Garfield seeing me naked just to find out if I laugh. I feel kind of violated thinking that this is what Jim Davis has been thinking about all of these years.
The truth is, even at 74-minutes long, this movie is going to bore and tick off every adult that sits down to watch it. Watching Odie try to hide a bone is cute for the first minute, but it gets redundant after the next 70. The fact that Garfield doesn’t really seem that lazy, and the fact that he never once eats or even takes a look at a lasagna is sort of sacrilegious. He drools over hot dogs, but not the Italian pasta dish he has been madly in love with since 1978.
It seems like no time was taken in figuring out the middle portion of the film that might have enticed adults to watch with their children. It seems like they said, “We’ll start here and end here,” but forget about developing a full story for the middle. While there are tons of characters adults will recognize, like Dagwood from the Blondie comic strip, there is no way an adult with any brain capacity will love this film, which is fine. They don’t have to. They just have to enjoy the peace and quiet they will have when their kids are planted in front of the television watching a classic cartoon character at work – even without his lasagna.
I was absolutely floored when I saw the number of special features for Garfield Gets Real, mainly because the last thing children will want to sit through is a lesson on the film's animation process. Yes, I can see children having a blast with the games included on the disc, but there is about as much chance of a child sitting through the lecture-type features as there is a dog not taking a crap in mom’s favorite shoes.
“Pencils, Paws and Ink: Creating the Garfield Comic Strip” focuses on the creative process Davis uses each month to create the Garfield comic strip. The good thing about the feature is Davis talks with a lot of animation and enthusiasm. It is also very interesting for the creator of the strip to talk about his creativity process, whether it’s how he comes up with different gags or the schedule he keeps to create a series of cartoons. It might not be child friendly, but it sure is a fun feature.
“Jim Davis: Raw and Un-Cat” has Davis talking about the development of ideas for the story behind Garfield Gets Real. It talks about bringing Garfield back to his roots in order to begin the story and bring it along from a created “cartoon world,” and making a believable transition into the “real world.” It is not the most exciting feature, but by listening to Davis, you can tell how much love and attention he gives to these characters, and how much he cares that everyone loves them. “The Animation Process” features interviews with David and producer Dan Chuba talking about the look for the Garfield films, which they make three of every two years, and how they are created after Davis writes the script. It is another feature that adults may love, but kids will start screaming to have shut off.
“Legends Working Together” is one of the most ridiculous features I have ever found on any DVD. It is about the voiceover actors and their apparent “legendary” status with one another. I don’t get it. I have never heard of any of these people, despite the fact that many of them are the voices behind hundreds of cartoons, but they consider themselves legends in their field? They start playing a guessing game of sorts, where you have to guess who each person is – and the only way you can do that is if you pick a name out of a hat. Kids may like it because you have a bunch of weirdoes doing crazy voices, but it’s a weird feature. Another feature that shows the lunacy of these voiceover “legends” is “Bloopers: Voices in Our Heads.” If you thought the last feature was crazy, wait until you see this one. It’s actually kind of fun, though, because they’re just sitting in a chair doing crazy voices and making funny faces – many of which look like they’re having a tough time on the toilet.
“Finding Your Voice” is another feature dedicated to the direction of the people doing the voices of each character, and how the filmmakers come to the voice they need and want for the film. Again, this is nothing a child would sit through. The final documentary-style feature is a dull one called “Animating from the Seoul.” This features interviews with the films producers and discusses their communication process with the animation team in Seoul, Korea. I am getting bored and tired just writing this. Does anyone care? I’m sorry, but you’re making a kids' movie. Kids eat glue, chew on toys, finger paint and have the attention of a dog of speed. Do you think they’re going to understand that people in Korea are helping you make a film? Get real!
Under the category of Garfield Games on the special features menu, there is a game called “Don’t Be Late.” It is a simple game that can be played on the television. It is a Where’s Waldo type of game, only you’re finding household items that will help Garfield get to work on time – yes, he needs the troll head and loaf of bread to get to work on time. Basically, if you’re an adult and you can’t get Garfield to work on time, now’s a good time to get that GED you’ve always been dreaming about.
Finally, there are also two DVD-ROM games – Punt the Pooch and Whack-a-Wawa. These games are fun for the kids, but in order to access the feature, you must insert the disc into your computer and make sure you’re running Microsoft Windows 98 or higher, and have the latest version of the Flash player. It will not work with a regular CD-ROM drive, which is kind of annoying. It’s kind of like making Garfield movie without lasagna or a DVD for a kid’s movie with more special features than most Hollywood blockbusters.