- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Garfield has appeared in a syndicated cartoon strip for almost three decades continuously, starred in his own award-winning animated TV series, had his own Monopoly game and reached the top of the New York Times best seller list. He even lends his moniker to a medical condition defining feline obesity.

Yet it took 26 years for his creator Jim Davis to finally agree to bring this lasagna loving, curmudgeonly cat to the big screen in 20th Century Fox’s “Garfield: The Movie.”

“I never wanted to do traditional animation, because of the [audience’s] nature to compare it to [a] Disney [film],” says Mr. Davis from his Muncie, Ind., Paws Inc. headquarters.

“However when I saw ‘Toy Story,’ I knew we could finally bring Garfield to life in a very real CGI-live action film that would be believable to both longstanding fans and a new audience I hope to find.”

The genesis of the furry popular culture icon dates back to the mid-1970s when Mr. Davis noticed the lack of cartoon strips featuring cats. He rolled childhood memories into one large, orange fur ball and named his new creation after his grandfather, James Garfield Davis.

“Garfield is a compilation of a lot of cats, and people, that I have known,” Mr. Davis says. “Of course the cats I grew up with on the farm were strong, outdoor cats that could fend for and support themselves. This is not Garfield, unless you live next door to a fast food place.”

The number of newspapers carrying the fat cat gradually swelled — much like his midsection — from 41 in 1978 to 2,570 by 2002, earning “Garfield” recognition by the “Guinness Book of World Records” as “the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip.” Mr. Davis attributes this broad appeal to the portly puss’s connection to the average reader.

“To keep Garfield relevant has never been part of the goal, however his attitude has always kept him relevant,” Mr. Davis says. “He resents authority, something that most people on some level bond with, and he never makes a social or political commentary. He only comments on life, and just as he sees it.”

In “Garfield: The Movie” the four-footed one takes off on a whirlwind adventure to save Odie, a new addition to the family that he first sees as being nothing more than a bit of annoying competition for owner Jon Arbuckle’s affections.

Academy Award-nominated actor and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Murray lends his voice to the feline, and combined with the visual effects work of Rhythm & Hues (known for helping to bring Scooby-Doo to a live action film format), they have created a perfect adaptation of Mr. Davis’ beloved cartoon character.

“Watching pieces of the film, Garfield’s depth has been quite surprising,” Mr. Davis says. “For the past quarter century he has, pretty much, been two dimensional. Now he has a warmth and personality that with only 25 words to issue a thought or feeling through, has been difficult to express.

“To watch him fully articulated for a length of time, it’s almost like seeing facets of his personality like never before. To watch him really breathe, move, react, was amazing.”

After watching the movie, fans may wonder why Garfield is computerized while the rival for his master’s affections, portrayed in the strip as a half beagle, half dachshund, appears as a new breed of pup and is a more real than virtual entity.

“In the movie he is portrayed by a pair of Jack Russell terriers — male and female siblings — that are just brilliant,” Mr. Davis says.

“They are beautiful dogs, and the producer was delighted because they performed so well that there were fewer computer-generated animations that were required, particularly in places such as the dance scenes, where they just did so well that they did not need much help from technology.”

As to what is next for Mr. Davis, it will include adding to Garfield’s 550-and-counting licensing opportunities, most likely developing a second movie and continuing a quest more important than bringing his furry friend to the eyes of movie audiences.

“Some day I want to write the gag that will make the whole world laugh,” Mr. Davis says. “I would love to have Garfield address life in such a way that he offers the essence of humor.”

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