Once upon a time, Garfield was just a suburban housecat who loved lasagna. He ate and ate and ate until he could hardly move. Then he would eat some more. Occasionally, when he'd worked up enough energy, he'd torture his canine housemate, Odie, all the while delivering snarky comments. Then he'd take a nap. These exciting adventures were captured on the pages of Jim Davis' cartoon books, which included "Garfield at Large" and "Garfield Tips the Scales." These days, since the kids aren't so much into reading, even if it's just comic strips, Garfield has taken to the big screen, where, voiced by Bill Murray, he eats lasagna and tortures Odie.
That was the first Garfield movie, anyway. In an attempt to jazz things up a bit, "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" sends the talking orange fur ball off to England with his hapless owner, Jon Arbuckle (the incredibly bland Breckin Meyer), who in turn is hot on the trail of love interest Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt, asking us to believe she's a veterinarian). The Americans find themselves embroiled in a case of mistaken identity when a cat named Prince -- who looks exactly like Garfield -- is targeted for extinction by a jealous would-be heir. High jinks ensue.
It's probably safe to assume that Murray signed some kind of deal that didn't allow him to escape from this second talking-cat outing, which is good news for us. Davis couldn't have asked for a better person to channel his creation, Garfield, in all his grumpy, lazy, delightfully insouciant glory. From the minute the animated feline opens his mouth, it's clear that this is voiceover Kismet.
One of Garfield's most attractive qualities, is his total disinterest in taking the high ground. (He's too fat to get up there in the first place, but that's not the point.) He's utterly unsentimental, he lacks empathy, and he's a glutton. If cats could have lust in their hearts, Garfield would have all the deadly sins covered. In other words, he's not exactly the kind of sticky-sweet cartoon character some parents might like their children to emulate. He is, however, exactly the kind of character that makes cartoons bearable, even enjoyable, for grown-ups.
Director Tim Hill, who directed "Muppets in Space" (1999) and wrote "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie"(2004), clearly understands that balance, and he strikes it reasonably well here. He's got his hands full, directing an animated cat as well as a bunch of live-action animals, and a few human actors as well. For the most part, the people in the movie do what they're supposed to do in these situations: stand back, try not to look like complete idiots, and let the animals do the talking. And talk they do: Each one speaks in a distinct regional accent, the socio-political implications of which will be lost on most adults, not to mention children.
Speaking of children, they'll forgive the occasionally lame dialogue and forced plot turns. Instead, they'll get a kick out of the barnyard scenes, where goats and pigs and chickens and rabbits chatter away, intent on foiling the evil Lord Dargis (Billy Connolly), who is determined to wipe out Garfield/Prince and gain control of a country estate. Their chaperones will be amused by Garfield's bad attitude and some clever wordplay.
I've always had a soft spot for Garfield, and this may account, at least in part, for the fact that I enjoyed a lot of this movie. When the humans have the sense to keep quiet, and the animals are doing their shtick, there's great fun to be had. Kind of like life, now that I think about it.