Upon hearing a familiar voice narrating the new Garfield movie, Madeleine, who is about to turn 6, looked up at me and said, "That's the man from 'Babe.' " Good ear, I whisper. That's Roscoe Lee Brown, the narrator of "Babe." He's not all that the makers of the Garfield sequel stole from that children's classic about a plucky pig.
And when you steal from the best, you can't help but improve on 2004's "Garfield," which had Bill Murray riffing and slumming, and a real dog who was much cuter and funnier than the animated fat cat this is all about. The dog's still cuter than the cat. And Murray's still riffing.
"You were soooo much cooler when you wore a mullet," he mutters to his owner, Jon (Breckin Meyer, seriously dull). But "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" is roughly twice as good as that earlier hairball "Garfield: The Movie."
Bring together a barnyard full of mildly funny critters, British locations, a decent villain (Scotsman Billy Connolly) and a mistaken identity plot that even a 5-going-on-6-year-old can follow, and you've got -- not a winner, exactly -- just not an embarrassment. Jon wants to propose to the fetching vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt, perky but dull). Liz has some animal charity thing to do over in Britain. Jon decides to follow her. And Garfield and Odie (the real dog, and the only critter in this thing who doesn't talk) stow away to go with him.
An identical chubby kitty named Prince (voiced by Tim Curry) has inherited an estate. Weaselly Billy Connolly wants the cat out of the picture. Prince and Garfield accidentally swap identities. Prince has to learn to cope with Odie. And the animals of Carlyle Manor have a new champion, one who'll teach them to make lasagna, Garfield style.
"It's . . . what's for lunch." The kitty in the kitchen stuff is a hoot, with every animal under the sun helping to whip up pasta prima-Garfield. Connolly burrs his wee lines and smacks his wee lips and flirts with wee Liz.
And 80 minutes later, you realize that it's entirely possible the British stuff in this cut-rate semi-toon didn't actually involve shipping the American actors overseas. Director Tim Hill (he did the "SpongeBob SquarePants" movie) and crew must have shot it in two halves, with the animals and British actors all in Britain, the Americans and maybe Connolly and Roger Rees (as executor of "The Cat formerly Known as Prince" ) on sets in the U.S. Murray phoned in the first film's voice tracks. Here, he's more engaged. It's a slow, chatty catty movie. But there is a gruff bulldog who has Bob Hoskins' voice, a doofus Rottweiler voiced by thuggish Vinnie Jones, a chorus of ducks, and the odd bathroom joke.
It's not "Babe." Just consider "A Tail of Two Kitties" more endurable, more a movie than "Garfield: The Movie," and you won't be too disappointed.
`Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties'
MPAA rating: PG for some off-color elements
A 20th Century Fox release. Director Tim Hill. Screenplay Joel Cohen, Jim Davis, Alec Sokolow.
Producer John Davis. Director of photography Peter Lyons Collister. Editor Peter S. Elliot. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.