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Frames of Time...

074_04 - The FIRST Garfield Movie...
The release of GARFIELD: THE MOVIE reminded me of previous attempts to bring the lasagna loving feline to the big screen.

Back in the 1980s, while working on the GARFIELD AND FRIENDS show, the character Garfield was really flying high. He was the star of numerous Emmy winning specials. The comic strip was one of the most read in the world, and the books reprinting those strips were best-sellers. And, of course, GARFIELD AND FRIENDS was the top rated show on CBS's Saturday morning schedule.

Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, wanted to take the tubby tabby to the next step: animated feature. He wrote a script. He and partner Lee Mendelson had it recorded. Songs were written and recorded. All he needed was a studio to back animation production and release the film.

Despite Garfield's enormous popularity, he could not find an interested studio. When he would approach studios, the studios were interested. When studios saw the script. Interest waned.

The script was: GARFIELD'S JUDGEMENT DAY. The story told of how animals could really talk with humans, it was just that animals had sworn never to do it. When a major disaster is approaching, the animals have a secret meeting to decide if they should break the vow of silence to warn their owners. The dark tone of the proceedings was said to have been the key factor in studio disinterest.

After several years of no sales, Davis pitched the idea to CBS as a one hour prime time special. By that time, CBS was getting out of the animated special business. Ratings were not as strong as they once had been. On top of that, Davis' previous one hour special, GARFIELD'S 9 LIVES, had proved to be one of the most unpopular. In an effort to save the project, Davis cut all the songs and trimmed it down to a half hour special. CBS considered a bit, but then passed.

With script, presentation art, even voices recorded, the feature had now cost thousands of dollars. In an effort to recoup some of the funds, Davis had his studio team turn it into a book as part of the Garfield line. The book came and went quickly and is not recalled by most Garfield fans these days.

After the failure of JUDGEMENT DAY, Davis wrote a new script. It featured Garfield, Odie and Jon visiting Jon's family on the farm. A majority of the story dealt with the chickens on the farm. The film focused on the crazy chickens lifestyle. Davis had hoped by going for more of a wacky comedy film, it would attract attention. However, once again, Davis found no one interested in backing the film.

Davis began working on a third script. By this time, though, the prime time specials were no longer in production. The Saturday morning series was winding down production. Garfield was percieved, by many, as having past his prime.

The huge success of bringing Scooby Doo to live action gave some executive the idea that converting Garfield to live action would be equally successful. Considering the past record of such animation-to-live action transitions (which includes THE FLINTSTONES and ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE), it could be an uphill battle.

Some have stated this movie is around 10 years to late. In truth, it is. But that is not the fault of Jim Davis and his flabby tabby. And whether the film succeeds or fails, it has brought Garfield back into the spotlight. That spotlight includes the release the first season of GARFIELD AND FRIENDS to DVD. Finally being able to re-see the classic animated series is definitely a big fat hairy deal.

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