Garfield has been around for decades and made its creator, Jim Davis, a millionaire thanks to a licensing and marketing everything from books to feature movies. And who can forget the Garfield plush toys with the suction cups people used to put on car windows?
A rumor has persisted since the early 1990s, Davis was upset over the use of Garfield in the Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue special that he stopped it from re-airing again. The special which featured Garfield along with the characters from Ducktales, Muppet Babies and The Smurfs among others who stop a teenager from getting involved in cannabis. It was aired on all major networks simultaneously on April 21, 1990. (If only the Saturday had been on April 20, the irony would’ve brilliant.) The rumor has been disproven as Davis did allow Garfield, but looking back the show is like Reefer Madness for kids and just as absurd.
But during the 1980s, Davis worked with Phil Roman and his production company, Film Roman, to make several TV specials before Garfield and Friends aired in the late 1980s on Saturday mornings. And just like the Peanuts gang, Garfield got his own holiday specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving and of course, Christmas.
On this date, Dec. 21, 1987, A Garfield Christmas aired on CBS for the first time. The plot is very simple. Garfield (voiced by Lorenzo Music) isn’t happy that his owner, Jon Arbuckle (voiced by Thom Huge) is wanting to travel on Christmas Eve from their house in the city (supposedly Muncie, Ind.) to go to his parents in the country with their dog, Odie (voiced by Gregg Berger). Both Jon and Odie are excited for a Christmas in the country but Garfield isn’t.
And he’s not too keen being around Jon’s family, his mom and dad (voiced by Julie Payne and Pat Harrington) and his brother, Doc Boy (voiced by David Lander). But he finds some kindred spirits with Grandma (Pat Carroll), who shares his same disdain and cynicism for everything. The story is basic. They decorate the house for Christmas and have a nice meal for Christmas Eve which Grandma feeding Garfield and Odie under the table.
But during a moment when Mom plays the piano and the other Arbuckles sing, Garfield notices Grandma is alone in her rocker at the window and sits on her lap. She begins to tell him about her late husband and it becomes a little clearer why she is the way she is. It’s a tender side as we see Garfield putting aside his sarcasm to offer comfort.
Later while they sleep, Odie goes out to the barn and Garfield follows observing him from a far making some contraption. But as he tries to remain hidden, Garfield stumbles upon some old letters that were actually long forgotten in a storage box. It turns out the letters were written to Grandma from her husband when they were younger and the next morning, Garfield presents them to her to make her happy. And Odie presents the contraption as a makeshift animal scratcher. Even though Garfield is constantly treating Odie bad, he is excited and touched Odie would make it for him.
It’s a nice little Christmas special. There’s only so much you can out in a 24 minute special. Music and the rest of the cast fill out their roles perfectly. Even though Dad looks like Lewis Arquette, I was surprised it was Harrington who played Dwaine Schneider on One Life to Live. Carroll, who recently passed away this past summer, was a veteran of the stage, screen and TV. You may remember her mostly as the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid.
But the special offers silly humor and tenderness that is a surprise. People have criticized Garfield as more of a cash cow for Davis. However, if you’re looking for a nice Christmas special to introduce to a young audience as well as feeling nostalgia, this is perfect for you.
What do you think? Please comment.