How do you find the perfect person to voice Garfield, everybody's favorite Monday-hating, lasagna-loving feline and one of the most beloved comic strip characters in history? If you are filmmaker Mark Dindal, the way to the right casting was through the stomach.

"We found this one clip where Chris Pratt was on a talk show talking about snacking, and how he could devour trays and trays of some food that he absolutely loved if he was allowed to," says Dindal (2000's Oscar-nominated The Emperor's New Groove and 2005's Chicken Little). "When we cut that to drawings that we had of Garfield, it just fit so well. He had the growl and the laziness and the joy of eating."

In The Garfield Movie, Pratt lends his voice to the titular house cat, who is reunited with his long-lost father (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and subsequently pulled into a high-stakes heist. The movie's voice cast also includes Nicholas Hoult as Garfield's owner, Jon Arbuckle, and Harvey Guillén as his faithful canine companion Odie, as well as stars like Hannah Waddingham, Bowen Yang, and Snoop Dogg. Once the recording sessions officially got underway, Dindal's instincts proved correct.

"Chris delivered all of that and then some," the director tells A.frame. "He does a tremendous amount of improvisation and ad-libbing too, and just twisting the words to make them flow better. His delivery and timing is wonderful."


A.frame: Why Garfield? What was your relationship to this character, and what made you say yes to bringing him back to the big screen?

First of all, it's an iconic character, so that's always exciting when you get that opportunity. One of the first questions that I had was, "What would we do with the character, his personality and his emotional life to fill 90 minutes?" I was really happy when they sent me a script and this idea of him meeting his father, a character whose never been in the comic strip, was introduced for the first time, and that there was a vulnerability there that we didn't realize. We know him as he is in the comic strip, but, like everybody, there's other facets to Garfield, and you're often surprised to find out that someone who seems like they'd be extremely confident would have insecurities, for example.

What were then your conversations like with Jim Davis, who created Garfield?

It was exciting to meet Jim. I wanted to be a comic strip artist as a really young kid, so to meet someone like Jim, who had not only succeeded in a big way but is just a wonderful person and an artist at heart and a lover of broad cartoon comedy, it felt like there was a kindred spirit there. I was excited to hear that Jim was really into the idea as well. Jim said that he had a couple daily panels to tell a story and that this particular premise gave us the opportunity to tell a story that he never could. That was interesting, because for 45-plus years, that's how he's been telling stories with Garfield.

I also thought it was great that he really understood what the comic strip arena was and understood what the arena of a movie was. He was never saying, "Just take 500 comic strips and stick them together." He knew that couldn't be the approach. We were greatly influenced by expressions and things from the comic steps, but he knew that there was something you have to do differently for 90 minutes of movie. I find that all really inspiring, and you definitely look for that when you know you're going to spend the time it takes to do an animated movie.

Director Mark Dindal with Jim Davis at the premiere of 'The Garfield Movie.'

It's been nearly 20 years since your last film, Chicken Little, and the technology of moviemaking, especially with animated films, is always evolving. What was different or new in how you approached and executed The Garfield Movie?

Obviously, the biggest thing was doing it over Zoom, because there's an energy that you have when you're in the room creating with artists. There's a lot of spontaneity in the way that I like to work; we have a script and we have a roadmap, so we know where we're going — it's not like we're completely driving with no idea of where we're headed — but if you can create an environment where feel comfortable suggesting anything, they always do. People might censor their ideas, thinking, "Oh, this is a dumb idea," but I actually really like when people go, "Okay, this is a dumb idea, but what about this?" I'm like, "Yes, that idea! That's where I want to be!" Oftentimes, it is maybe a little ridiculous and silly, but even if it is, it will inspire something else.

So, doing this over Zoom was hard. You're just not in the room. If you're together, I don't know what it is, the force, we'll call it, is there. But everyone rose to the challenge and got comfortable with it. That is my only regret, is that we couldn't be together. On the flip side, thank goodness there was this technology, because what would we have done without it? I've got to be grateful for that. We learned how to make do with less and still have it work. A lot of recordings were done in people's closets with microphones that you could buy on Amazon. That's not exactly a recording studio, but it ended up working out.

Chris has a couple huge voice performances to his name already, between The Lego Movie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Is that something you're both conscious of when working on this character and his voice performance for Garfield? To ensure he differentiates it from his past voice work?

I didn't think about that much, because you think back to classic actors and Jimmy Stewart was in a lot of movies, and they didn't say, "Oh, we've used Jimmy Stewart too much." Jack Black does a lot of films and voiceover, and no one says, "Well, we've already used Jack!" Or, "Jack is this character, so he can't be that character." I focused more on what this character needs and who could bring that. I mean, these people aren't going to only be in one movie and then retire. [Laughs] I really believe that they can bring something unique to it.

In addition to Chris, you've assembled quite the voice cast for this. I will say, I'm kind of obsessed with the fact that there is a Pulp Fiction reunion between Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) in The Garfield Movie. And just in time for that movie's 30th anniversary.

When we saw all of the pictures of all our actors, we just looked at it and went, "Oh my gosh, look at this group of actors. If this were a live-action movie, imagine all of these people in this movie!" It was really fun just thinking of who you could get, and when they say yes, it's so exciting. Chris and Sam and all of our actors, they improvised and brought their own personal experience to the movie. Cecily Strong said that Marge was based on her friend's mom in Wisconsin. Actors are great at observing life, so when they can bring that, they bring something extra to the movie. Every recording session was really a blast.


As a lover of heist movies, I can't say I ever would've expected to see Garfield dip in its toes into those waters. Was that part of the appeal, to blend genres and surprise people in that way?

Yeah, I think it was exciting to come up with something that you wouldn't expect him to be a part of, and in this case, it worked well because this is Vic's world invading Garfield's world. Garfield would be happy to stay home and be comfortable with Jon and rule the household. Something that Jim [Davis] was very supportive of was to pull him into a world of adventure that you wouldn't expect. As a street cat, Vic's had to survive, and so Garfield then gets pulled into his dad's world and he's thrown off his game. It's not an environment where he has total confidence. Although, in the film, he would like to think that he still knows how to do everything.

You've been working on this film more than five years now. How does it feel to finally be here, on the verge of releasing it into the world?

Because maybe three years of this was done over Zoom, there was a time where it felt like we were just making a movie for fun amongst ourselves. The very first time that I went to the mix stage and saw it on a huge 40-foot screen, one of the producers and I were sitting back in our chairs, like, "Whoa, this is too big!" [Laughs] We got used to a 17-inch computer screen and we were excited that it held up. But of all the movies I've made, there is just a little bit of a different feeling. I don't know if you can exactly put it into words, but it's just a surreal thing, like, "Oh yeah... This is real and it's out there."

Lastly, like me, do you see this weekend's release of The Garfield Movie and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga as the logical successor to last summer's Barbenheimer? It's the weekend of Furfield!

It's a great mashup! [Laughs]

By Derek Lawrence


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