A Garfield Christmas Special (1987), Lookback/Review

Okay, who alive in the 1980s didn't love Garfield? And yes, he had a Christmas Special.

Since 1978, kids and adults alike have been enjoying the grumpy antics of a fat,

lasagna loving cat known as Garfield. Set in Muncie, Indiana, Garfield lives with his owner, Jon Arbuckle and a crazy beagle named Odie. While the popular comic strips and the equally popular TV show Garfield and Friends, focus on the interactions between Jon, Garfield and Odie, we occasionally see some of the other people in their lives. One of these occasions is during the 1987 Christmas special, simply named A Garfield Christmas. For those of us who already know and love Garfield and the cast, the well-known voices of Lorenzo Music as Garfield and Thom Huge as Jon are a welcome sound on a holiday so focused on family, friends and familiarity.

The special opens with a shot of the overly decorated Arbuckle house. Inside the house, Garfield is sleeping in a striped version of his usual box, in front of a roaring fire. Jon wakes our big, orange feline friend with a stack of lasagnas that he lays out in a line, leading to the Christmas tree and all the presents. After shoveling copious amounts of noodles, cheese and sauce into his mouth, Garfield reaches the tree just in time for Jon to reveal his present to his cat (brought in on a fork lift, oh boy!); a gift giving machine. 

Anyone who is familiar with the greed of our furry friend can just imagine everything he’d wish for. Unfortunately for our fuzzy buddy, all of this is a wild dream we can only assume was brought on by too much eggnog and cookies. Much to his dismay, Garfield is loaded into the car with Jon, Odie and a bunch of presents so they can head off to Jon’s childhood home, “The Farm,” where they will spend Christmas. While Jon waxes on about how much he loves the season and spending it with his family in song form, grumpy gus Garfield likens all the Christmas preparations to various forms of work (my favorite being when he calls putting lights on the tree “electrical contracting”).

Ad – content continues below

Upon arrival at The Farm, Jon begins catching up with his family members, including his ever so sarcastic and passive-aggressive Grandma who takes an almost immediate interest in Jon’s tubby tabby. After all, what old lady with a rocking chair doesn’t like a cat to warm their lap? The fact that she just so happens to have the same personality type as Garfield is just icing on the kitty cake. Though, if I were Garfield, I would probably do more than slightly bristle at the mention of “wood burning cats.” Luckily for Garfield, the only burning he experiences is the burning in his mouth after he dips into the gravy Grandma has adulterated with large amounts of chili powder and which he deems “perfect.”

As Christmas Eve dinner begins, we see the family gathered around a table filled with scrumptious cartoon representations of classic Christmas dishes, such as rolls, turkey, the above mentioned gravy and pie. Lots and lots of pie. Though Garfield and Odie were not invited to the table, Grandma makes sure to pass lots of food down to them. When questioned about the amount of food she’s “eating,” Grandma says she’s “eating for two, now.” (Wait, what??) When offered leftovers, Garfield and Odie are understandably full, though no one seems to question why the ever voraciously hungry cat would turn down a home cooked meal.

After dinner is done and the dishes are all cleaned up, Jon and family decorate the tree. When it gets time to put the star on the top of the tree, “Dad” complains about putting it on first while he balances on “Doc Boy’s” back to try to reach the top. Jon gives the job to Garfield instead, because everyone knows that cats are great at climbing trees. Unfortunately Jon seems to have forgotten that cats are also well known for freaking out once they get high up in the tree. For Garfield this translates into falling down the interior of the tree, bringing all the decorations with him. The cheesy TV version of a family Christmas Eve celebration continues with carols around the piano. After beating out a jazzy version of “O’ Christmas Tree,” Grandma retreats to her rocking chair at the window and reminisces about Christmases past and her deceased husband, “Grandpa,” while stroking a happy Garfield. It’s a very conflicted scene for a cartoon; depressing yet heart-warming. After a built in segue for a commercial (this was produced as a CBS Christmas TV special after all), Dad reads Binky: The Clown Who Saved Christmas. He tries his best to get past Binky’s signature phrase, “HEY KIDS!” in a normal voice. But come on, we’ve gotta hear that obnoxious scream! Luckily, Jon and Doc Boy agree and won’t let Dad read on until he fixes his mistake. 

Bedtime at the Arbuckle Farm! While all the adults go to sleep, Odie sneaks out to the barn. We see our hard-headed beagle friend putting together some sort of contraption from found pieces and parts, while we listen to Lou Rawls and Desiree Goyette sing You Can Never Find An Elf When You Need One. Garfield sneaks out to spy on Odie and ends up falling down and getting hit on the head with a bundle of old letters. The ever childish Jon and Doc Boy wake up to pester their father about whether it’s time to open presents yet. Dad sends them back to bed, since it’s only 1:30 in the morning, to which the boys grumble about how it’s already Christmas morning and they should be allowed to open presents. Oh the toddler-like logic. When Christmas morning finally comes, Dad presents the boys with three choices: chores, breakfast or presents. A chorused scream of “PRESENTS” from Jon and Doc Boy is the only response Dad gets. After everyone tears into their packages, Garfield hands over the bundle of letters to Grandma. Though we’re not told outright, Grandma hints that there are some rather raunchy details about her and Grandpa’s courtship in these letters. The warm, bonding moment between Grandma and Garfield is interrupted by a spastic Odie revealing his gift to Garfield. What in the world is this thing? Oh! A back scratcher! A pretty darned perfect present for a cat. We witness Garfield in a seldom seen sentimental moment as he announces “Christmas: It’s not the giving. It’s not the getting. It’s the loving.” We’re never really told whether humans can understand Garfield, but the feeling seems to resonate as the episode closes with a twangy song, It’s a good Old Fashioned Christmas

While there are many reasons that this became an instant Christmas classic, I think that seeing our usually greedy and melancholic friend, Garfield, admit that presents aren’t the essential things about the season, is the most resounding reason of all. And while most kids nowadays have never seen an old school Garfield cartoon, writer Jim Davis does a wonderful job making it possible for even the newest viewers to get attached to the characters in this short but memorable Christmas special.


Ad – content continues below