Back in the 1980s, Garfield was pretty damn popular. His presence was pervasive in pop culture, so much so that younger people today would probably be surprised. He originated as a comic strip by Jim Davis, but his popularity grew enough to pave the way for some prime time animation specials. These proved popular, and were the springboard for his own show: Garfield and Friends. Of those old specials, one of the most celebrated was A Garfield Christmas. It’s one of my personal favorite holiday specials and I included it in my countdown a few years ago as one of the 10 best holiday specials of all-time. It premiered in 1987 on CBS (my mother, who liked Garfield, somehow missed it when making our Christmas tape VHS that same year) and would be shown every holiday season for a few years, though it quietly disappeared in the 90s. Maybe audiences grew sick of Garfield, but I’m a bit surprised just how fast it fled from the annual network rotation. Later on in the 90s you could sometimes find it on cable, but now the special is seldom shown.
What’s not really remembered too fondly is the second cartoon series based on the fat cat. Simply titled The Garfield Show, it premiered on Cartoon Network in November of 2009 and would run for over 100 episodes, eventually making the move to Boomerang in 2015. The Garfield Show is a CG animated program executive produced by Davis and it actually returned a lot of the cast and creative group behind Garfield and Friends. It was a half-hour based program in which each episode was split into two cartoons. It’s not a show I am that familiar with. I was aware of its existence when it originally aired, mostly just from seeing it on the channel guide and mistaking it for the old cartoon. It’s not something I was supposed to be aware of though since I didn’t have kids at the time and few of my friends did. It was created to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the character and I assume it was to re-introduce the characters to a new audience. Since it ran for so long I’m left to assume it was fairly successful.
“Caroling Capers” is the show’s first Christmas episode and it aired during the first season on December 15, 2009. It features the main cast of characters. There’s Garfield (now voiced by Frank Welker as Lorenzo Music passed away in 2001) whose personality is unchanged from his other iterations. Odie (Gregg Berger) the dim-witted mutt with a heart of gold. Jon (Wally Wingert) is just as awkward as always and is constantly being pestered by his cat for more food. And in this episode we also have Nermal (Marc Saez) the vain kitten from next door who annoys Garfield to no end.
The episode opens with Jon decorating his Christmas tree and having a difficult time with the star. He remarks how Christmas is his favorite time of year and that it feels like just yesterday he took down the Christmas decorations from last year. Garfield, watching television and looking quite relaxed in a lounge chair, remarks that’s because he probably did and that Jon rarely gets to taking them down before Halloween. Odie is watching TV as well and seems very into the Christmas special they’re watching. He angrily glares at Garfield who won’t shut up about his growling stomach (the sound of which also seems to annoy Odie). On television, Garfield takes note of some carolers in the program Odie is watching. They sing for an old woman, who then gifts them some treats. Garfield, after being informed the Christmas turkey is still hours away from being ready, decides that this may be the solution to his tummy trouble.
Putting on a festive hat and scarf, Garfield hits the neighborhood hoping to score food in exchange for Christmas carols. He first shows up to the front door an old man whom he interrupts while cleaning the floor. He sings a carol and his performance is quite terrible prompting the grumpy old man (Welker) to toss a bucket of water on Garfield and slam the door in his face. Undeterred, Garfield goes to another house and its the home of some bachelor who I have seen featured in other episodes (and is also voiced by Welker, who basically voices everyone, it seems). Garfield again performs for this guy and he’s just as awful as before so the man fetches a spray bottle to get Garfield the Hell off his property.
Odie has been watching this whole time and laughs at Garfield’s misfortune. Nermal then shows up to offer his 2 cents and also to demonstrate how to properly carol. Nermal invites Odie to be his backup singer and the duo perform for the same man that just sprayed Garfield. He falls for the two and offers them a prime rib dinner and figgy pudding. Garfield faints in shock while the two chow down, with Nermal remarking you either got it, or you don’t.
Garfield rises from the ground and gives chase, proposing they share some of that delicious food in keeping with the holiday spirit. Nermal shoots him down pointing out that Garfield never shares his food with them, which Garfield is forced to concede. He then suggests he could be their vocal coach, and Nermal seems to find the idea absurd. Garfield demonstrates his singing once more, and a Christmas ornament on a decorated tree in someone’s yard shatters (which makes no sense, since Garfield is singing low, not high). When Garfield tries again, the needles fall off the tree. Even after such a poor demonstration, Nermal offers to let Garfield in on their caroling if he can hit a high C note. Garfield explains the best way to do that is to yank out a nose hair, which he does and then (mostly) hits the note while running around in pain. Nermal lets him in, and Garfield explains he’ll be the conductor at the next house. When they begin their caroling for an elderly woman, Garfield stops them and demonstrates how he wants them to perform, prompting the woman to dump a bucket on his head. Nermal and Odie then resume their duet for food as he reminds Garfield he’s just not adorable enough.
Garfield decides he needs to find a way to be more adorable if he wants to score food with this idea. He peeks in on a gentleman watching the same special Odie had been watching and notes that the carolers all sing rather high. Garfield decides he needs to sing higher if he wants to impress, which strikes me as a bad idea. Garfield tries some warm-ups, that sound terrible, then tries again on the next guy. He seems startled to see this bulky gentleman in the doorway, but he goes through with his performance. Singing so high he sounds like Welker’s version of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters, it’s not much of an improvement, but it certainly is higher. The gentleman at the house is not impressed though and thinks Garfield is making fun of his unusually high voice. As the high-voiced man glares down at the cat, Garfield runs away suggesting maybe he needs some back-up singers.
Garfield is then shown conducting in a shed. It sounds fine, and it’s revealed he’s leading a trio of performing mice. The mice agree to join Garfield’s troupe so long as they get first dibs on any cheese gifted their way. With that, Garfield leads his new band to the next house which happens to be inhabited by a young woman. She sees the cat and his three mice performing and immediately freaks out. She grabs a broom forcing the critters to run. The lead mouse tells Garfield they’re out.
While Garfield is wearily walking down the street, Nermal and Odie are performing for the first house Garfield hit. They have a wagon full of food at this point, and the old man who once dumped water all over Garfield happily gifts them a pair of hams. Garfield can’t believe it, and angrily kicks a can that was sitting on the sidewalk which lands in a nearby wheel barrow. The pinging sound catches Garfield’s ear, and he gets an idea. Rummaging through a nearby trash can, he comes out with some sticks and more cans. The sound of steel drums are then heard and they attract Nermal and Odie who find Garfield drumming on the cans which he placed in the wheel barrow. They both look at each other as if to suggest they have an idea, and soon we get a montage of the two caroling while Garfield plays “drums.” The people they visit all react favorably and hand out more food, and Garfield finally gets to share in the festivities.
The montage ends at the Arbuckle residence with Jon setting out the turkey and calling for Garfield and Odie. Odie drags the wagon into the room with Garfield laying in it, patting his full stomach. Nermal is there as well and they’re all too stuffed to consider eating dinner. Jon remarks that Garfield not being hungry must be a Christmas miracle, which causes Garfield to rethink his fullness. He smiles at the turkey while remarking that maybe he can handle a few bites as the episode ends.
The Garfield Show, for one, really shows its age. I don’t think it looked particularly good when it aired, but the CG looks pretty dreadful in 2018. The show basically looks like a Playstation 2 game with very simple textures and backgrounds. There’s obviously some other limitations at work as Garfield and his buddies keep hitting the same houses throughout the episode instead of showing us new faces. Garfield’s mouth also moves this time, implying he (and Nermal) are actually talking though the mouth movements aren’t particularly good. There’s also lots of animation shortcuts as we usually see the aftermath of the water being tossed at Garfield, or the needles falling off of the tree, rather than seeing those things actually animated. I would not call the show ugly, but it’s definitely not as charming as the original specials and cartoon. I will say the Christmas decor looks fairly nice, and I like the festive clothing worn by the characters in this episode.
As the voice of Garfield, Frank Welker is obviously trying to do a Lorenzo Music impression and he mostly does a decent job. It’s sort of odd that someone with Welker’s background would feel the need to imitate another voice actor, but maybe he just also felt this was the most appropriate voice for the character. Garfield is a low energy character, and the sleepy quality of his voice is part of his charm. The other music in the episode is kind of weird and sounds like an episode of Rugrats. For the carols, the characters just say “La-la-la” or “meow-meow-meow” to the tune of “Deck the Halls” which is fine. The sound design on Garfield’s drums is quite nice though.
One thing this episode does get right is the humor of Garfield. It’s not a laugh out loud kind of show and is more of an understated brand of comedy. It fits with the character, it’s the limitations of the technology behind the show that ultimately hold it back and keep it from being a true holiday classic. I’d much prefer to watch the classic holiday special, which in addition to being funnier is also rather sweet and does a better job of getting that Christmas message into the show. This one is just fine though, and as a 12 minute cartoon the caroling scheme works well with the character. Garfield just wants to get fed while doing as little as possible.
If you want to watch this one this Christmas, then you have several options. While I don’t expect Boomerang to air it, the entire show is on Netflix. There was also a holiday themed DVD of the show released titled Holiday Extravaganza which may or may not be easy to come by. There’s also an official YouTube channel for the show, so I feel comfortable actually linking you to this episode since it’s apparently official. It’s also free!