In Zombieland, Bill Murray – playing himself – is asked if he has any regrets. ‘Garfield, maybe’, he says wearily, referring to the ill-starred first attempt to bring the orange lasagne hoover to the big screen. Chris Pratt now has a similar blot on his copybook (although he will likely be considerable less self-deprecating about it), with this latest outing, a woebegone animated adventure that scrubs out everything except the most basic signifiers of the character.

We pick up with our sedentary pal at a moment of unexpected upheaval; his father has come back into his life. Vic (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) abandoned Garfield as a kitten, but has reappeared to enlist his estranged offspring and doggie chum Odie in a heist carried out at the behest of a vengeful Persian called Jinx (Hannah Waddingham). Garfield and Odie vanish on their mission leaving frantic owner Jon (Nicholas Hoult) to try and track them down.

If you think this sounds unlike the Garfield that several generations now have known and loved, you would be correct. The adventure Garfield goes on here just isn’t in the spirit of the original strips. One could argue that there isn’t enough plot in the comics to flesh out a movie. That should have been the first indication not to bother. Garfield as a character lives in a perpetual present defined by his most urgent needs: food, sleep, the tormenting of Odie. Suddenly giving him a backstory is antithetical to the notion of the character itself.

The animation style also misses the simplicity of Davis’ original drawings. The CGI is fairly slapdash and garish, and the look of every recognisable character is subtly off. Garfield often looks like he’s got a handlebar moustache. While his political leanings are unclear, it could be taken for granted a cat given to lazy consumption (as is this film; the amount of product placement is scandalous) won’t be a Zapatista. It’s another element that makes the entire venture feel like the production company obtained a license and had a previously discarded story into which they could crowbar the brand.

A starry voice cast does little to elevate the proceedings. One hesitates to grumble about an update of a property wrecking one’s childhood, but there was something beautifully fitting and iconic in Lorenzo Music‘s voice acting in the 80s cartoons that can’t be emulated. At least Bill Murray retained something of Music’s laconic drawl (Music also voiced Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters, coincidence fans!). Chris Pratt’s voice here is leached of all personality, identical to his ‘everyman’ persona in The Lego Movie. It worked in that movie as his blandness was the point, but it’s awful casting here). Jackson and Hoult are clearly cashing a cheque, and why Snoop Dogg makes an appearance is anyone’s guess, but the fact that it’s a substantially more half-arsed performance than he gives in the Just Eat adverts is telling.

It’s all a travesty. Not that expectations were exactly high, but director Mark Dindal was responsible for The Emperor’s New Groove, which has come to be regarded as arguably the last great pre-3D Disney cartoon. While it might not match the classic achievements of the House of Mouse, it at least had charm, originality, and the indication it was made with love. The Garfield Movie is bereft of all of those ingredients. It’s a hideous, cynical enterprise that deserves nothing more than a sack, a brick, and some deep water.

In cinemas nationwide from Fri 24 May 2024