Puss in Boots 3D
What It Is
An orange tabby cat wakes in a prison cell. The camera pans the room as he notes his surroundings: an empty milk bottle, a lovely girl kitty on a pillow (with whom, you guess, he’s spent a rapturous previous evening), and a fellow prisoner (hairy, human, and shackled). The cat pulls on his boots, steals a ring from the sleeping man’s finger, and makes his way to the windowsill. Ducking as the man heaves his own boot at his head, the cat scampers away to freedom as his cellmate yells after him, “You can’t run forever, Puss in Boots!”
But of course he can. Getting away is what Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) does. Ever smug, wily, and elusive, he does pretty much what he pleases, seducing and deceiving, sometimes enchanting, in order to get his way (most effective tactic: his big dark eyes look). In this case, he wants to get his “good name” back. Pursued by the authorities for crimes he didn’t quite mean to commit, Puss spends most of the movie revisiting bits of fairy tales — and other movies based on fairy tales. Some of these bits are generic (Puss is a poor orphan abused by bullying peers) and some more specific (Puss finds and plants Jack’s magic beans) and others rather roundabout (here, as in Hoodwinked Too!, Jack and Jill — voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris — are a pair of psycho criminals, dressed up in gnarly Western villainy, borrowed from Rango).
The adventures begin when Puss meets the brilliant thief-and-dancer Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek); after a brief flirtation, he realizes she’s actually working for an old friend of his, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), now deeply estranged. (Their conflict is a lot like that between Syndrome and Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles, or maybe Titan and Megamind in Megamind, that is, a sidekick seeks revenge on his mentor/former playmate.)
The boys agree to work together on the magic beans caper (they want to find the goose that lays golden eggs, just like Jack did), run into troubles and action sequences, and finally come to terms with each other.
Why It’s Fun
Puss in Boots is generally a charming cat. In the Shrek films, he served as a diversion and occasional commentator on the main action, slightly removed and a little sardonic. Now that he has his own time to fill — a time set before he’s met Shrek, in fact — the cat is slightly less enchanting than you might remember him. To a point, the film recognizes the risk it’s running by making a supporting character into a star: as Puss launches into the long story of his past with Humpty Dumpty, Kitty Softpaws begs him to stop, but to no avail: when he is finished, he looks over at her and she’s fast asleep, much as you might be, given the clichés on which his saga is built.
The animation is skilled: the 3D fur — on cats and horses and even the baby hogs Jack and Jill are raising as little substitute children — is exquisitely rendered, as are the fluffy clouds when Humpty, Puss, and Kitty do make their way up the beanstalk to the giant’s castle. Still, the terrific detail of the imagery doesn’t always make up for the lagging narrative. As much as Puss and Humpty and Kitty run around here, they don’t get very far. The action is a bit frantic and the payoff a little flat (despite the 3D).
Who’s Going To Love It
Younger viewers will appreciate the color and the occasional slapstick, the raucous action and perhaps the fantastic settings.
Shrek fans may be looking forward to another installment of that franchise, minus Shrek and Fiona. Here the rhythms and punch-lines are much the same: the fairy tale figures are a little raunchier than they seemed when you were six or seven years old, their views a bit jaundiced.
What To Be Aware Of
First, the violence. It’s nothing kids won’t have seen in TV cartoons, but it is loud and wide on the IMAX 3D screen. The careening on wagons amid dust clouds, the shooting and the fighting, all ensure that the hunts for the beans and then the eggs proceed apace. But sometimes the hunters — Puss, Kitty, and even Humpty — seem that’s all they are, vehicles to keep the pace speedy.
Second, the sex. Or more precisely, the sexual innuendo. Most younger viewers won’t notice all the verbal parrying between Puss and Kitty or pay much attention to their slinky-dancing scenes. But parents might walk in aware of the film’s use of such details, even as jokes about other scenes in other movies, mostly. That the film leans heavily on the stereotype of the Latin Lover (Puss’ primary self-image, after all) makes these jokes seem even less original.
And third, the moral lesson. While it’s good to believe in the goodness of old friends — and Puss wants so very much to believe in Humpty’s goodness — the finale here is a little abrupt (it features a smashed egg, á la Humpty’s rhyming fairy tale), and less happy than disquieting.
5 out of 10
Puss in Boots 3D
Director: Chris Miller
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris
US Premiere: October 28, 2011
UK Premiere: December 9, 2011