[23 December 2005]
There’s something special about a cartoon that doesn’t shoot for the obvious. If there’s any real reason for my childhood love of Garfield, the television incarnation of Jim Davis’ popular comic strip, then that’s probably it. Garfield is the opposite of a lot of comics and cartoons in that its hero is not a lovable scamp getting into all kinds of mischief, but rather an overweight anti-hero of cat, whose hobbies include sleeping, eating lasagna, and wryly dismissing other, more excitable pets.
His owner, Jon Arbuckle, fills a role stereotypically associated with women: a 30-something spinster whose entire life seems to revolve around his pets. Jon’s life displays a comic level of loserhood that will make both adults and children chuckle: he eats leftovers, wears loud clothing, and tries and fails to pick up women. Worst of all, however, he lets his cat boss him around.
Garfield himself (voiced by the late, great Lorenzo Music) is a refreshing cartoon presence. The episodes don’t revolve around his adventures so much as his reluctant participation in the adventures of others, especially Jon and his best friend and roommate Odie, the pea-brained, slobbering hound Garfield loves to trick. Even then, our beloved, lazy protagonist keeps his distance, sarcasm and cool; he’s most concerned about where his next plate of lasagna is coming from.
Cat Tales is a collection of early Garfield specials which aired during prime time in the early ‘80s. This set does not, unfortunately, include the holiday specials, which rank among the best (the Halloween special is particularly memorable). Cat Tales is a pure representation of the original vision for Garfield, which later spawned my favorite Saturday morning cartoon, Garfield and Friends. The three discs in this set are: “Garfield As Himself”, “Garfield Fantasies”, and “Garfield Travel Adventures”.
The standouts are the first-ever special, “Here Comes Garfield” and the later Hawaiian adventure “Garfield in Paradise”. For most of the episodes, Lou Rawls provides a blues score that continues throughout each episode almost nonstop. Whether on purpose or not, the sung narration is a hoot (Rawls sings a tense, creeping blues number in the first special about Garfield’s search for a midnight snack).
Garfield is wry and funny, but it can be equally touching and joyful. Many of these specials revolve around Garfield’s relationships with Odie, Jon, and even his mother (“Garfield On the Town”). It’s hard not to get a little teary-eyed when Garfield saves Odie from the pound in “Here Comes Garfield”, or when Odie almost bites the dust again in “Garfield in Paradise”.
The great thing about this cartoon is its ability to balance between adult humor and sarcasm and childish sillyness. Perhaps the most enjoyable moment on all three discs is when Garfield fantasizes about singing Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” to a crowd of beach bunnies in Hawaii. He may be lazy and cynical, but Garfield is the thinking man’s cartoon cat. Even if all you’re thinking about is lunch.