Holiday special review: ‘A Garfield Christmas’

During the month leading up to Christmas, Mike will review popular or not-so-popular holiday specials. This review appears in 12/6 The Glendale Star and the 12/7 Peoria Times.

When I was a kid I took out “Garfield Goes Camping” from the library. I suppose the fact that I only rented books based on comic strips sort of defeated the purpose of going to the library, but at least I was reading. Anyway, apparently I loved the book so much that I never returned it, and out of fear of drastic repercussions never returned to the library. Was it worth it? It was worth it.

Because Garfield was awesome. An obese, sarcastic cat that loves lasagna? That type of genius comes along only once in a generation, and I consider it an honor and privilege that the accompanying televised cartoon existed during the prime of my childhood.  That popular cartoon was parlayed into a 1987 special, “A Garfield Christmas.”

The special begins as all great specials do—with a dream. Garfield is dreaming that it is Christmas morning and he is about to eats loads of lasagna, and one of his gifts is a mind-reading robot Santa Claus that grants all of his wishes. Modern science has yet to reveal what cats actually dream about, but I imagine that is pretty close. Jon, Garfield’s owner, wakes Garfield up to inform him it is Christmas Eve and they’ll be spending the holiday at his family’s farmhouse. ROAD TRIP.

As a child watching this for the first time, it was comforting to know that Jon actually had a family and was not just an asexual weirdo who lived alone except for a slobbering dog and a cat that he fed lasagna. It turns out that Jon’s family is a bunch of country bumpkins, especially his brother Doc Boy, who wears overalls and is bald and still lives at home. Compared to Doc Boy, Jon really made it in life by moving out to suburbia and settling down with his dog and cat.

Garfield, used to that suburban living, is worried he’ll be bored out in the country, a classic cat-out-of-water situation. That changes when he meets Jon’s grandma, with whom he shares a sense of sarcasm and dry wit. (Although it remains uncertain whether or not humans such as Jon and his grandmother can hear Garfield’s thoughts, one of life’s eternal mysteries.) They bond enough for her to reveal to Garfield that she misses her deceased husband, especially around the holidays. If you thought you’d avoid the underlying themes of death and loss during this cartoon Christmas special about a fat orange cat, you are mistaken, although few cats handle the subject with as much aplomb as Garfield.

Garfield senses that Odie, the dog, is up to something and follows him into the garage, where he discovers a box of letters. Christmas morning, it is revealed that Odie had been building Garfield a back-scratcher, a gift that tears down the emotional wall Garfield had constructed between himself and his dim canine housemate. Garfield then gives Grandma the box of letters which, it turns out, were old love letters from her late husband. I kid you not that this is a genuinely emotional scene. I’ve been known to get a bit misty-eyed before reminding myself I am watching, “A Garfield Christmas.”

So Grandma gets a little closure, Jon and Doc Boy get to indulge in childhood nostalgia, Garfield gets to scratch himself, and everyone discovers the true meaning of Christmas, which is all those things.

“A Garfield Christmas” is a tough one to find, but it should air on ABC Family or something this month. In all honesty, this is one of my all-time favorite Christmas specials—it is genuinely funny and heartfelt, and it features Garfield and music by Lou Rawls … I’m really not sure what else one can ask for. It gets nine out of 10 Christmas stars.

Note: This column appears in the 12/6 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/7 issue of Peoria Times.