DNEG Animation
Vic (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Garfield (Chris Pratt) in "The Garfield Movie."
CNN  — 

Given Garfield’s long history it’s hard to imagine a film about the corpulent cat that feels as if it’s made for almost nobody, but “The Garfield Movie” limbos under the bar. Big and loud, with animated action aimed at kids, the film also loads up references to things like “Mission: Impossible,” “Top Gun” and “Fargo” and still manages to feel as stale as a week-old lasagna left out too long in the summer.

Part heist movie, part family reunion, the film draws upon the most salient characteristics of the flabby feline, but mostly as an excuse to build a story that seems to crawl further from its origins with every passing frame. A bevy of star voices (Chris Pratt leading the way in the title role, along with Samuel L. Jackson) can’t enliven a project that, creatively speaking, exhausts at least four or five of its nine lives.

Peaking during a pre-credit sequence, the film introduces a big-eyed baby Garfield (those plush toys aren’t going to sell themselves) who gets abandoned by his dad, Vic (Jackson), a resourceful outdoor cat, and taken home by Jon (Nicholas Hoult), who even adopts Odie the dog to keep him company.

Flash forward several years, and the grown and well-fed Garfield has his suburban bliss upended when he’s abducted (catnapped?) by Jinx (Hannah Waddingham, in a mini-“Ted Lasso” reunion with Brett Goldstein as one of her hench cats), using him as bait to lure Vic out of hiding and exact revenge.

Baby Garfield still loves lasagna in "The Garfield Movie."

Said revenge involves forcing Vic and the resentful Garfield to team up on a milk heist from Lactose Farms, a setup that should make even dairy enthusiasts feel a trifle intolerant. In the process they encounter a lovelorn bull (Ving Rhames) and a security guard (Cecily Strong) named Marge who sure sounds a whole lot like her “Fargo” namesake.

A lot more happens, but it’s all a transparent ploy to keep the audience distracted long enough for Garfield and Vic to engage in family bonding, and squabble over their “The Aristocats”-style differences, which proves less heartwarming than intended.

Part of the inherent challenge has to do with the demands of taking the simplicity of the original “Garfield” comic strip and blowing it up into something that can sustain this kind of enterprise, a task that feels especially thorny in this case.

Traditionally, parents have looked for movies they can safely take kids to during the summer, and barring a few mildly racier gags, “Garfield” meets those modest criteria, at least, until reinforcements like the “Inside Out” and “Despicable Me” sequels arrive.

For anyone with an appetite for more than air conditioning and a PG rating, though, “The Garfield Movie” is more like a stale snack than a fancy feast.

“The Garfield Movie” premieres May 24 in US theaters. It’s rated PG.