Its bland zone-out-if-you’re-not-hyper-focused ugly-looking animated specials like Garfield’s Thanksgiving that make you long for a Rankin-Bass or Peanuts holiday classic or at the very least, the unhinged antics of the Family Circus. Based on a comic strip of unexplained popularity, it apparently revolves around a surly cat obsessed with food, his brain damaged dog pal and human owner (Jon) who can only be charitably described as a clueless loser.
The plot centers around Jon’s creepy and unwanted advances on his veterinarian. His offensive (and quite frankly amateurish) attempts to wrangle a date out of her while she’s examining Garfield turn off the audience at least just as much as they do the vet. Despite her turning him down again and again, she finally agrees to go to his house for dinner the next day which just happens to be Thanksgiving.
This seems like a recipe for disaster of course. First dates are high pressure situations under the best of the circumstances, but having it on Thanksgiving? That’s something that happens when you want to take the relationship to the next level. But maybe since Jon is a weird bachelor who only celebrates Thanksgiving with his pets, that ratchets down the expectations. Worse though is the character of the vet. First you give in to this annoying twat, then you agree to go to his house by yourself? I know the 1980s were a different time, but we still had serial killers then, too!
What would a holiday animated event be without some plot twists? While an pathological overeater (what sort of trauma did Jon inflict on him that he’s self-medicating like this?) like Garfield would normally spray all over the house in joy for a holiday devoted to stuffing your face, his vet has placed him on a diet! And Jon is following it, giving Garfield only half a leaf of lettuce! Worse for Garfield is that his dog roommate Odie has been drafted into service to see that Garfield doesn’t break his diet!
But none of it will matter a lick if the Thanksgiving dinner gets all fudged up by Jon! And it does! What to do? Jon’s bad ass grandma appears to whip up the best dang meal in the history of last minute Thanksgiving dinner saves! Who cares if the turkey is still frozen? That’s why grandma brought her chainsaw, you ninny!
And in a bit of what passes for holiday magic, Garfield’s vet decides to hold off on his diet, saying that maybe they’d just put him on an exercise regime for now! An easily brow beaten lady with bad judgment who is also an enabler? Sounds like Jon found the perfect mate!
If this special is an accurate representation of the comic strip (and why shouldn’t it be since creator Jim Davis had a hand in writing the script), its mysterious appeal will remain just that. Garfield is not likable or even funny, his dialogue coming off more as snide and insulting asides instead of humor that generates any laughs.
The humans are just as bad. Jon is an vacuous doofus while the dour vet fat shames poor Garfield when she isn’t insulting the guy who she nonetheless accepts a dinner invitation from. Only Odie doesn’t turn off the viewer and that’s simply because he has nothing really to do with anything.
The special does leave us with a couple of unanswered questions that at least make this a slightly memorably bad 24 minutes. Like why does Jon have a ballerina outfit in his closet? And what’s the deal with the talking scale Garfield uses that mistakes him for Orson Welles and then says “Rosebud” when it’s destroyed? I guess you won’t get that in any other holiday cartoon. Also of note is that this special first aired on November 22, 1989. Isn’t that already a particular dark date in our nation’s history without Garfield also coughing up this hairball?
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