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A Cartoon Christmas: A Garfield Christmas

For 45 years, kids and adults alike have been enjoying the antics of a loveable, orange, lasagna-eating cat named Garfield.  He's appeared in newspaper comic strips with his dry humor and insatiable appetite since 1978.  Living with his owner, Jon Arbuckle, and fellow pet, Odie the dog, Garfield is known for being sleepy, grumpy, and, most of all, hungry.  Set in Muncie, Indiana, the popular comic strip and equally popular TV show "Garfield and Friends" focused on the daily interactions of Jon, Garfield, and Odie.  

The popularity of the comic rose to the point that CBS created 12 television specials between 1982 and 1991 featuring Garfield.  While several are still very popular today, one rises above the rest:  A Garfield Christmas.  

A Garfield Christmas originally aired on December 21, 1987, on CBS, as part of a special Christmas event that paired the debuting Christmas special with the debut of Will Vinton's "A Claymation Christmas Celebration," which featured the white-hot (at the time) California Raisins.  

It was rebroadcast annually until 2000 (the last showing was December 14, 2000), when CBS and other networks began moving away from classic Christmas specials.  Until its final showing in 2000, it was frequently paired with the Peanuts special "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  Garfield's Christmas also aired on ABC Family in 2007 and 2008 but has not seen national television since.

This special was the 7th of the 12 produced for television.  Directed by Phil Roman, this special stars the great Lorenzo Music, who provides the iconic voice of Garfield.  Thom Huge returns to provide Jon Arbuckle's voice, and the pair are a welcome sound to my ears every year.  Gregg Berger, Julie Payne, Pat Harrington, Jr., David Lander, and Pat Carroll provide the other voices.  

Garfield creator Jim Davis wrote the teleplay and later cited it as quasi-autobiographical.  The cartoon shows Garfield discovering the true meaning of Christmas while he spends the holiday with Jon and his family on the Arbuckle's farm.  In writing the special, Davis based it on experiences of his own Christmases spent with family on their farm in Indiana.  Many of the Arbuckles are modeled after Davis' own family.  His real-life brother was truly known as Doc Boy, although the wacky Grandma Arbuckle was an entirely fictional character.  Davis said she was added purely for the emotional subplot of cherishing time spent, past or present, with loved ones at Christmas.  

It was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1988 but, oddly enough, lost out to a Claymation Christmas, in which it was paired during its debut.  

A Garfield Christmas Special was made available on VHS in 1991.  Following the release of the first live-action Garfield movie in 2004, Garfield's Holiday Celebrations was released on DVD, which included Garfield's Halloween Adventure, A Garfield Thanksgiving, and A Garfield Christmas.  After receiving millions of views on the official Garfield YouTube page, the Garfield Holiday Collection was again released on DVD in 2014.  Another DVD was released in 2017, titled "Happy Holidays, Garfield!" that featured only the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials.  

TV Guide ranked this cartoon 10th on its 10 Best Family Holiday Specials list in 2004.  

Several differences existed between the original 1987 broadcast (and subsequent rebroadcasts) and the 1991 VHS release.  The original version did not include the scene in which Doc Boy and Grandma play "O Christmas Tree" on the piano.  The cut scene is pretty obvious: one second, Garfield is standing in front of the Christmas tree, and next, he's sitting on top of the piano.  After the 1991 VHS release, this "O Christmas Tree" was inserted into the annual broadcast, but several other scenes were trimmed for time.  

Of the scenes trimmed for time, the first was Jon driving his car out of the driveway and through his neighborhood.  Grandma giving her dinner to Garfield and Odie under the table was trimmed to remove two shots of Garfield and Odie receiving food.  The brief portion of Mom Arbuckle playing the piano right after the commercial break was several seconds longer in the original version.  Lastly, over five seconds of audio were cut from "You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One" to make room for the "O Christmas Tree" song. 

In addition to the cut scenes, the scene where Grandma reminisces about her late husband was completely reanimated with new shots in different lighting, including a brand new close-up of a framed photo of Grandma and her husband.  Keen eyes may also notice that when Jon and Doc Boy go to bed after their father finishes reading "Binky, the Clown Who Saved Christmas," the reaction on Dad's face is also entirely different.

This newly edited 1991 version is the one that aired in all subsequent CBS broadcasts, as well as the two airings on ABC Family.  It is also the same one you'll find on the official YouTube upload, as well as the Garfield Holiday DVDs.  During December 2014 and 2015, the original 1987 version was available on Hulu and is now the version available on Amazon.  

In addition to the edits made to the 1991 special, the comic book adaptation contains a few scenes never featured in the animated special.  Many fans assume these scenes were probably in the original script but cut for time.  These all-new scenes include:

During Garfield's dream sequence, as he is eating the line of lasagna pans, Odie is in the background playing with a remote-controlled crane, digging a hole to bury a bone in it.  After Garfield complains about visiting Jon's family, there is a new scene where Jon gets him to help wrap presents by putting Garfield's tail on the bow, resulting in the present getting stuck to Garfield.  Garfield then wraps up Odie as a present for the Arbuckles.  

Dad gets Jon and Doc Boy to do the chores in the barn, so Jon asks Garfield and Odie to accompany them.  As they lift the hay bales, the two boys get into an argument, and Doc Boy tells Dad that they should have gotten Grandma instead of Jon to help.  In the television special, this scene is replaced with Jon, Odie, and Garfield walking through the snow.

In the comic book, when Mom says, "It just wouldn't be Christmas if we put the star on the tree first," Dad replies, "One more remark like that, and you'll be seeing stars, woman."  Yikes... no wonder that didn't make air, even in 1987!

Also, in the book, the scene where Odie finishes Garfield's back-scratcher has him unable to finish it because there isn't a hole in the base to put the rod in.  After it falls apart, he gets angry and kicks it away before crying.  When Garfield figures out why Odie is upset, he distracts him with corn and rushes in to drill a hole in the board and insert the rod, then ties the gardening tool to it.  When he leaves, Odie returns and is surprised that the gift was made up, but happily wraps it and leaves.  In the animated version, the board already contains a hole, and Odie makes the gift himself.

I took this opportunity to fire up A Garfield Christmas for my annual viewing so that I could provide a brief recap below if you don't have access to a copy yourself! 

The cartoon opens with an overly decorated Arbuckle house, and inside, Garfield is sleeping in front of a roaring fire.  Jon wakes up our favorite fat cat with a stack of lasagna trays that he lays out in a line, leading the way to the Christmas tree and a pile of presents.  After devouring several helpings of lasagna, Jon brings Garfield's gift in on a forklift.  It's a gift-giving machine!  

Our greedy orange feline begins imagining every wish he's ever had, and the machine starts spitting them out!  Unfortunately for Garfield, it was just a wild dream, and he's awoken with a reminder that he'll be visiting the Arbuckle clan on the family farm.

Garfield is quickly loaded into the car with Jon, Odie, and a bunch of presents as they set off in one of the cutest little animated cars.  My wife and I have mentioned to each other how, as children, we loved this scene featuring the "city limits" sign as Garfield, Odie, and Jon drove away from the big city and out into the open country.  The soft, pastel colors of the background combine perfectly with a happy little song about Christmas as the gang rolls through the countryside on its way to Christmas with the family.  

When they arrive at the farm, Jon catches up with his family, including the sarcastic and passive-aggressive Grandma Arbuckle.  She takes an immediate interest in Jon's heavyset cat, Garfield.  She also points out that Jon is getting a little heavy himself, too.

As Christmas Eve dinner begins, we see the family gather around a table filled with classic Christmas dishes such as dinner rolls, turkey, Grandma's extra spicey gravy, and lots and lots of pies.  Although Garfield and Odie don't get a seat at the table, Grandma ensures they get something to eat by passing them scraps under the table.  

Once dinner is done and the dishes have been cleaned, Jon and his family turn to the traditional decorating of the Christmas tree.  When the time comes to put the star on top of the Christmas tree, Dad complains that they should put the star on first before they put the tree up.  Jon gives the job to Garfield, who scurries up the tree and places the star at the top to much celebration.  Unfortunately, Garfield falls straight to the ground, insisting that whoever invented Christmas trees should be "drug out into the street and shot."

Next, the family sings carols around the piano, including Grandma's jazzy version of "O Christmas Tree."  Afterward, she retreats to her rocking chair near the window.  As she pets a very content and sleepy Garfield, she reminisces about past Christmases and her deceased husband.  It's quite heart-warming and depressing all at the same time.  

Later, Dad reads "Binky:  The Clown Who Saved Christmas" to his boys as he's done since they were young.  He tries his best to skip past Binky's signature phrase, but Jon and Doc Boy whine until Dad yells out "HEEEEEEEEY KIDS!" just as Binky would.  

While the adults all head to bed, Odie sneaks out to the barn.  The dimwitted but loveable beagle seems to be putting together some contraption from bits and pieces he's found in the barn.  Garfield sneaks out to spy on Odie and trips into a bundle of old letters from Grandpa to Grandma from many years ago.

Jon, a true man-child, is too excited to sleep and wakes up his parents at 1:30 in the morning.  Dad sends him back to bed as Jon and Doc Boy grumble that it's technically Christmas morning and they should be opening presents.  The logic of a four-year-old... When Christmas morning finally arrives, Dad gives the boys three choices:  Breakfast, Chores, or... Presents!  The brothers scream, "PRESENTS!" and everyone tears into their packages.  

As everyone relaxes in their post-gift bliss, Garfield hands over the bundle of letters to Grandma.  She blushes and laughs (I'm assuming at some raunchy lovey-dovey stuff Grandpa once wrote) while reading through these long-lost letters from her late husband.  Odie interrupts a touching moment between Grandma and Garfield to present his gift to Garfield, but Garfield can't figure out what in the world this contraption.  When he asks, Odie demonstrates that it's a back scratcher!  A perfect gift for Garfield.  

A rare serious moment from Garfield comes when he turns to the camera and says, "Christmas:  It's not the giving.  It's not the getting.  It's the loving."  

I don't think in the comic strip or any special, it was ever said if the humans can hear and understand Garfield, but they seem to all "awww" at his statement, so they must have understood him somehow.  An upbeat song called "It's a Good Old Fashioned Christmas" plays as the special comes to a close.  

Garfield's sarcasm, dry wit, and warm-fuzzy Christmas feelings make this a classic holiday cartoon.  The artwork and cartoon style of the late 80s, with its solid lines, soft colors, and much less than 780P focus, makes me feel like a child all over again when I watch it.  

For many people, A Garfield Christmas is the ultimate Christmas special.  It has enough originality and Christmas "feels" for families to keep it in their holiday viewing tradition year after year.  Finding a physical copy has been challenging and expensive over the past several years, but it is currently streaming for free on YouTube.  If there was ever a time the world needed to be reminded of what really matters at the holidays, it's now.  


  1. You just had to mention the California Raisins again. I learned my lesson, though - I make sure I’m not eating anything when I stop by here.

    I like the backstory/history you add, such as the different variations that aired over the years or that it stopped being aired on network tv after 2008. I haven’t watched tv in a long time, but it makes me sad to think how different it must be now compared to what I remember as a kid (or even a younger adult).

    1. Thanks for the compliment... researching the minutia is one of the biggest kicks I get out of doing this. We don't have cable either, so our daughter just watches what she wants when she wants, so Christmas special watching for sure is nothing like when we were younger. Then again, maybe not. The stuff she really likes she watches repeatedly and will likely ask for again next year! Only difference is we only had the one opportunity per year to watch our favorites!