JIM DAVIS on 'GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
June 9, 2006
Garfield returns to the big screen in the family film Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, a comedy of mistaken identities that finds everyone's favorite lasagna-loving feline stowing away to London and trading places with a snobby look-a-like named Prince. Bill Murray returns as the voice of the iconic comic strip cat, as do Breckin Meyer as Garfield's owner Jon and Jennifer Love Hewitt as romantic interest and veterinarian extraordinaire Liz. Joining the cast for the sequel are Tim Curry as the voice of Prince, Billy Connelly as scheming antagonist Lord Dargis, and a slew of animals with comically emphasized accents.
Garfield creator Jim Davis can be credited with bringing to life one of the most beloved characters in the history of comics and inspiring countless artists, writers, and comedians. His signature work holds the world's record for most widely syndicated and most financially succesful comic strip, and it is an instantly-recognized piece of Americana that has brought happiness to fans of all ages. In this interview, Mr. Davis graciously answers a few questions about Garfield's feature film adventures.
MEDIA: What was the inspiration for the character of Prince, a pampered cat that inherits a luxurious estate?
JIM: Well, that all started with Alec Sokolow, one of the writers. Alec Sokolow, Joel Cohen...They wrote Toy Story and the first Garfield. An elderly couple [that] lived near Alec passed away, left the house to the maid for as long as she took care of the dog. And this dog, I understand, is living very, very well. Kind of like Lassie. So when Tim Hill, the director, did some [investigating], he found a lot of people have left fortunes to animals...So that got everything started.
What were you hoping to accomplish with the "Garfield meets his snobbish look-a-like" plot?
What we wanted to do in this movie was make Garfield more reactive, as opposed to being in control of his own destiny, as in the first movie--flip-flop everything and get him into really unfamiliar territory. And humor really comes from conflict. Tall/short, fat/thin, smart/stupid. Then you have humor. So we thought, "Snob/slob." So we created a very common cat in an uncommon surrounding, allowing him to thumb his nose at the pomp and circumstance of the royal family kind of a life.
Bill Murray voices Garfield in the movie and played Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, while Lorenzo Music voiced both Garfield in the animated series and Peter Venkman in the 1980s Ghostbusters cartoon. Is this all just a strange coincidence, or did some casting agent somewhere feel that Bill and Lorenzo sounded alike?
[laughs] It was just a strange coincidence. Bill has that unique ability that Lorenzo had, which is so rare in comedy, to be able to throw a line away, but yet do it with great humor. If you do it where you don't really care about it, it's going to come out flat, except for the way Lorenzo did [it], and the way Bill does it. And so it was that ability [that made him right for the role], plus the fact that Bill has an ability to one minute be a wiseguy, and the next minute be totally out of his mind, screaming or singing, albeit badly. [laughs] But still with all of his heart in it. So it's his enthusiasm for the part.
In what ways did Bill Murray have a greater involvement in the second Garfield movie, as opposed to the first?
In this movie, Bill had the luxury of getting to spend a little more time with the role. In the first movie, it was a last-minute thing. We were chasing him around to the set of Lost in Translation, then we were doing pickup lines in Italy, and things like that. And so it was pieced together. But he enjoyed it so much, on this effort, he actually came into the studio. He's worked with the editing, ad-libbed a lot of stuff, and contributed to the script. He did a lot of stuff, and really, really matured that characterization that he built for the first movie. So that was fun to see.
How did you feel about Tim Curry providing the voice of Garfield's aristocratic doppleganger, Prince?
I'm a big fan of him as an actor, let alone a voice talent. I wish I could talk that way. [laughs] Or James Earl Jones. One of the two. I don't care. At any rate, the contrast between the two characters...It was very important to get a voice like Tim Curry. And also, subtly, with the animation, we raised Prince's nose a little bit. So he would glide across a room. Garfield would lumber. You can feel the gravity in Garfield when he would sway side to side. But we never allowed Prince to do that. Prince carries himself much better than Garfield in a lot of the mannerisms. We did trim Prince's hips just a little bit, so he wasn't quite as wide as Garfield. It was just a great characterization.
Has Garfield ever gone on a European adventure in the comics?
Nope! He never had...He rarely leaves his sofa, let alone leave the country.
Did you ever have to reject drafts of the script because you felt the writers were having Garfield act out of character?
No. I've worked with Alec and Joel on both treatments for the movies, so we all just talked it through. And actually, it's not like I have total creative control over the movies, but we're all really, totally in sync. The only thing we get a guarantee [for] is that everything's done in good taste--no swearing or alcohol or drugs. [Producer] John Davis wouldn't do that anyway, so it's never been a concern. We try to do the humor based not so much out of shocking people. We try to do good situational humor that'll guarantee the laughs.
Where does Garfield's love of lasagna come from? It's not quite typical cat food...
I love lasagna. I love food. [laughs] Garfield comes by his passions naturally, which has helped him in the long run just dealing with eating and sleeping. It translates easily. People can identify with it. It's not age or gender specific, either. It wasn't by design, but in hindsight, I realize that now.
Do you feel there was ever a rivalry between Garfield and Heathcliff?
[laughs] They got along great. Actually, when I created Garfield, I wasn't even aware of Heathcliff. He wasn't in the local papers. And it was after Garfield came out I started getting fanmail for Heathcliff. "I have your sheets. I have your dolls." [laughs] And it turned out to be Heathcliff. And so finally, I found some books and started reading it. Heathcliff is a true comic cat. His humor's very broad. He'll drive cars, he'll row rowboats, or whatever it takes to get the gag done. But Garfield really deals with being in a physical cat's world even though he's a human. And so we never really crossed paths. Actually, there was never really any competition between them. The comic characters are all pretty much supporters of one another.
Are there other animal-centric comic strips you really admire?
Oh, yeah. Actually, about all of them. There are so many wonderful new strips, but among the classics, you have Mother Goose and Grimm. [Creator] Mike Peters is just certifiably mad. It's so kinetic. I asked Mike what he drew with. He says, "I reach to my right. Whatever comes back in my fists, I draw with!" [laughs] That's Mike's whole philosophy on doing everything.
With newspapers becoming obsolete, do you worry about the survival of traditional comics strips? Do you feel they will be able to thrive in other formats?
Yeah, I think so. PDAs, phones, online. It's a huge concern. I was just on e-mail this morning with Dean Young, creator of Blondie, [discussing] the very same thing. This has been ongoing, though. We've seen it coming for 20 years...We've lost so many papers. Nevertheless, people love seeing that kind of format. It's a very different timing. There are very few words, little short strips. We're going online a lot more--a lot more active with our website and everything. So we'll be out there some way, in some form. But you're right, the long term health of newspapers is suspect. But it'll take a long time. People still love their newspapers.