PUSS IN BOOTS (2011)
Director: Chris Miller
Cast: The voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie
MPAA Rating: (for some adventure action and mild rude humor)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 10/28/11
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 27, 2011
The Shrek series has come to an apparent end (Let us hope, before it has the chance to undermine what its first two entries did so well), and Puss in Boots is an attempt to expand the universe of the series or, if one sees such things cynically enough, to keep up a studio's cash cow by creating a wider franchise. While the previous two movies about this fairy-tale world turned on its head at least had a few decent ideas and fell short on the execution, Puss in Boots has one idea: That the titular character can hold his own or, if again one sees such things cynically enough, is popular enough to sell people on a one-concept movie.
Indeed, Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) is a charming little fellow. He practically stole the second movie from right under the noses of the previously established and myriad new characters within it by the simple juxtaposition of possessing the attitude of a swashbuckling hero while being in the body of a tabby housecat. The few funny scenes in the movie come near the start as we become re-familiarized with that dichotomy of character, and once the exposition of Puss' new adventure is revealed, it becomes quickly and glaringly clear that supporting characters are sometimes best left as just that.
The literal and figurative tomcat begins, of course, sneaking out of a house before his latest feline conquest can awake. After robbing her owner blind and evading capture for the theft, Puss runs out toward the countryside, the female cat he wooed the night before sighing at his daring-do despite the fact that he had forgotten her name.
Puss is a wanted cat for his robberies, though even the toughest of men are at first amused by his appearance when the cat walks into a local tavern. After some fancy swordplay, he convinces them, and even the way he delicately laps up his shot of milk (one of those genuinely funny images of the contrast in personality and behavior that endears us to him) cannot lessen their fear. He's on the hunt for magic beans—the same magic beans a boy named Jack once used to obtain passage to a castle in the clouds where a golden goose lays golden eggs.
Also on the prowl for the beans are Kitty Softpaws (voice of Salma Hayek) and Humpty Alexander Dumpty (voice of Zach Galifianakis), a former friend of Puss whom he abandoned so many years ago after the egg tricked the cat into abetting a robbery (As Puss is unaware of what happened after he fled, Humpty insists, "They wrote a song about it"). Both feel betrayed by the other, but the beans hold the key to repaying an old debt to the town that took him in as a kitten so many years ago and that now believes him to be a heartless outlaw.
Until the reunion with Humpty, the movie takes pleasure in the characters and backdrop. Puss' first encounter with Kitty, during a simultaneous attempt to swipe the magic beans, leads to a chase across the rooftops of a sleepy town, and the payoff is a head-to-head duel in a secret bar for cats that happens to be holding dance night. The camera swirls through the space as the two fleet-footed felines scale the walls and fall safely down to the floor by tapping their heels against each other's feet (The crowd kneads its paws in applause after accompanying on various, makeshift percussive instruments, such as a fish skeleton).
Soon after, though, the energy of the opening scenes dissipates as Puss relates his back story to Kitty, detailing how he came to be known as a criminal and why he is distrustful of Humpty. It's a particularly long account (Kitty is asleep by the end—a throwaway gag but one that's unintentionally accurate) and one that hardly enlightens about Puss in any meaningful way aside from what conflicts arise later on in the story (i.e., what Humpty's ultimate goal is and how the townsfolk react when Puss returns). Otherwise, we get to see how Puss got those boots and the first time he made big, sad eyes to manipulate someone into doing things his way, and it adds little to the character and only takes away from the pacing.
In addition to the aforementioned dance sequence, there are some neat setpieces scattered throughout the movie. An attempted robbery the brutish Jack and Jill's (voices of Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) fortified carriage leads to a pursuit on perilous cliffs that is dizzying, and the trip up the thundering beanstalk to the castle in the clouds has the same quality.None of these characters stand out, though. Puss in Boots is perhaps too plot-heavy in that it doesn't take the time to play around with its fairy-tale sources (Jack wants to start a family with the crime-loving Jill, and the giant of the castle has died, leaving behind another massive creature as the sole protector of the layer of the golden eggs), and even without the green ogre, that is what this franchise is about.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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