The Cartoon: Garfield and Friends
Animation Studio: Film Roman
Original Run: September 17, 1988 – December 17, 1994
Binky the Clown
Dr. Liz Wilson
* – U.S. Acres Characters
There really isn’t a specific one – Garfield, Jon and Odie live in Everytown USA and the U.S. Acres Gang live on a farm. The strange thing about U.S. Acres though is that the farm doesn’t really appear to belong to anyone, it’s just a place where these animals live. Almost like humans don’t really exist in this world, but there are books and shit written by famous authors. It’s kinda surreal, actually.
The easy answer would be “well…it’s Garfield.” And, well, it is. He hates Mondays and Nermal, he eats all the food, he’s a pain in Odie’s ass and he and Jon have this sort of pathetic (on Jon’s part) power struggle throughout the whole affair. Because the show was split into three…acts, if you will (Garfield short, U.S. Acres Short, another Garfield short), the Garfield bits were able to retain that sort of immediacy that the 3-panel strips had and never lose its zip in the humor. And even though Garfield was always known for addressing the audience, even in the strip, there was an overt self-referential current running through practically every second of the Garfield shorts that it really felt like a variety show as opposed to just a run of the mill cartoon. Characters came and went and rotated in and out of the various plots, sometimes serving no purpose other than to break the 4th wall with the audience. It’s not easy to get that meta that often and not lose control of the tone of the show but the guys here did it pretty much effortlessly and consistently. Which isn’t to say that it was some art project that consisted of playing with audience perception and bending the limits of what was possible with Saturday morning animation…but, then again, it kinda was. But I didn’t know that when I was 8 – I just thought it was funny.
The U.S. Acres stuff was a bit more straightforward, however. Not that it wasn’t still clever, because it was, but those segments played out more like traditional cartoons that had messages and moral centers. Certainly it broke the 4th wall and dipped into its share of surrealism as well – I mentioned the whole human-influence-in-a-non-human-world aspect earlier, but a lot of it also came with the little things. Take Wade the duck, for instance. For some reason he always wore a little rubber floatie thing – always – and the duck head that was affixed to it not only looked exactly like his but mimicked his every movement and facial reaction. As an adult I can appreciate that it was just a simple sight gag, but as a kid I thought that was the best shit ever, simply because it was so weird. Same with Sheldon, the little ducking who hadn’t completely hatched out of his shell yet, having a muffled voice. Garfield’s eccentricities were on the surface in plain view, but U.S. Acres played a lot more with subtleties and detail. It actually served as a really nice contrast in between the two Garfield shorts.
The Short History
The show was based on two of Jim Davis’ comic strips. How’s that for short?
But really – that’s what it was. There was no denying Garfield’s popularity and it was only a matter of time before the brand branched out into other forms of media. One little bit of trivia, I suppose, is that internationally, U.S. Acres was called Orson’s Farm, for obvious reasons.
Well, I don’t know how much merchandise Garfiend and Friends actually had, aside from the DVD Releases, but Garfield merchandise? I don’t care how old you are – you own or have owned SOMETHING with that cat’s face on it. Go ahead – take a look. Go dig through your kid’s toybox if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.
Among other things, I had these. To single-digit me there was no finer way to sip on my Black Cherry Kool-Aid.
You Might Have Seen This Commercial
If your little ass was parked in front of the TV Saturday mornings in the early ‘90s, you might have seen these animated ragamuffins hawking cheeseburgers. Ah the BK Kids Club, that bastion of diversity. You had the girl jock, the cripple, the nerd, the black guy, the…kid astronaut (?), the dog who wore goggles and the pretty blonde girl who took pictures of everybody. Fuck yeah I was a member. I also had every one of those Simpsons toys. Hell, finding this commercial was more of a nostalgia trigger than writing this article, but that’s probably because I still watch my Garfield and Friends DVDs on a sorta-semi-regular basis. Enough outta me, here’s the commercial…
Tune in next Saturday morning for another installment.