Garfield and Friends - Volume One Review
These days it seems the only sure fire way to see our favourite television series make it to the DVD format is by ensuring the guarantee of boosted sales with the arrival of a feature film. If it wasn’t for recent blockbuster titles like Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels and of course, the basis for this review - Garfield: The Movie then we might have waited a lot longer to see them. Saying that, television shows on DVD are rapidly becoming more successful but every once in a while it is painfully obvious that there are other motives for their release. Clearly Garfield and Friends is a shameless cash in on a film that has been far from well received, but let that not disparage us, for at least the show is here for fans alike to enjoy at last.
It's something of wonder that Jim Davis' creation has managed to stay alive and well for twenty-six years, after all Garfield is essentially a one joke character whose purpose in life is to belittle his owner, eat him out of house and home and torment poor Odie while making sarcastic wisecracks. When Garfield became a ratings winner in the early 80's through a few TV specials it was eventually decided at the height of his popularity that he be given his own syndicated series. Jim Davis, it can be argued has fallen into the merchandise trap and perhaps the reason that Garfield continues to go on and on is because he sells so many damn t-shirts.
Turning what was a small comic strip into a long running series was a big gamble and surprisingly Garfield and Friends ran for an impressive six seasons (1988-1994). A fact I was oblivious too until I got my hands on this set because all the episodes featured here are those I grew up watching. I don't even know if the United Kingdom got all six seasons aired but nevertheless they're a decent collection to start off on.
Garfield and Friends can often be a tough series to call as the episodes show an inability to sustain themselves for the 22-minutes they run. This is where we can draw the parallels between the original 3-strip (or so) comic and a joke that has been forcefully dragged out for ten minutes, and it is something that the series evidently struggles with no matter how hard it tries.
Each episode is made up of three primary segments: Garfield, Orson's Farm and lastly another Garfield. In-between these sections are "shorts" which simply form its structure and break down each piece accordingly. It is my opinion that these shorts which run for approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute are the most successful addition to the series - they're quick, often wittier and herald back to Garfield's origins and the whole point of what Jim Davis originally tried to do. Thankfully Dungeons & Dragons creator, Mark Evanier was brought onboard as chief writer for the series and he does a very commendable job at forging entertaining enough episodes that are by no means awful but will do little more than make you raise a smile.
There are probably those out there who are not so familiar with Orson's Farm, or U.S. Acres as it is otherwise known. Garfield himself manages to hog the limelight for most of the run but in the middle of each episode is this insertion that goes on to deliver to children what Garfield fails to do himself. If Garfield is the depiction of anarchic slobbery then Orson is the Earth's spokesperson as he and his friends provide the moral values for each episode. In an interesting change of pace, Orson's Farm manages to use song as well as comedy to offer children wise words about life, education and respecting nature. By today's standards these still measure up well, at times a little cheesy but nevertheless appreciated and it is clear that Evanier had a good grasp on the content for these segments. Orson and company often come out as being the more entertaining aspect of the show because of their fresher feel.
The Garfield segments also throw out a few ditties, most of them not very entertaining: Garfield's eating as much as he can being an example of them at their worst and Odie's rap when they are at their best. Still, the series' mixture of song and dance, married with comedy and quirky characters ensures that Garfield is popular with the youngsters, with a few small nods to adult viewers.
20th Century Fox present season 1 of Garfield and Friends spread across three discs, each one containing 8 episodes of which I shall forego listing. Packaging wise, Fox has again decided to release one of their series in slim line cases. I'm quite fond of these collections being presented in this way as they are good for minimising shelf space. The three cases come housed in a card slip case featuring some colourful artwork.
The series is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio but is quite disappointing overall. The episodes here have been sourced from tape, with occasional lines as evidence and then poorly compressed so that it shows constant artifacts - particularly on Garfield's orange body. In addition to this there is an awful amount of aliasing present that shows up on every episode title and character outlines when they are further in the background, with close up shots faring better. Colour wise the series is inconsistent, with characters being too colourful one moment and then slightly saturated the next. There is resulting colour bleeding but through all of this the episodes are watchable despite taking some getting used to. I don’t think we'll ever see this looking better due to its age, unless a better PAL conversion comes along for R2 fans (of which there is no news).
Naturally we only have an English 2.0 mono track with an additional 2.0 Spanish option. There are no major issues toward the audio side of things. Lorenzo Musics dulcet tones come across clear and the action is generally well handled.
The episodes also have optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Extensive extras were never going to be an issue with this release, although some audio commentaries could have well been possible. This set has been issued to coincide with the cinema release of the motion picture Garfield and therefore only contains a trailer for the movie on Disc 3.
Garfield and Friends is far from compulsive viewing so those taking the plunge may find themselves watching it in instalments. The series is a decent way to pass half an hour here and there and still holds up relatively well since its conception. Personally the fondness I once had for Garfield has waned since my childhood, with it no longer appearing as the hilarious piece of work I once thought it to be and instead turning out as a charming enough little series that is good for all ages.