Movie review: Puss in Boots

By Sandra Olmsted

Director Chris Miller’s extravaganza delivers spectacle, laughs, excitement, and beauty, but, like a clandestine rendezvous of Puss in Boots, the film’s story lacks a warm heart and happy ending, which Disney has conditioned the audience to expect in animated films.  Fortunately or unfortunately, DreamWorks provides a different take on the children’s film formula but are working out the bugs.

The film is huge in the scale of the story, the settings, and the action.  Similar to the origin stories of all superheroes, this film reveals of where Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) came from and why he is living outside society.  In a flashback, Puss in Boots is left on the doorstep of Mama Imelda’s (voice of Constance Marie) orphanage, and she accepts and loves him even when Puss, not yet in Boots, and his blood brother Humpty Alexander Dumpty (voice of Zach Galifianakis) mischievously steal from the good people of San Ricardo, a sleepy village high in the mountains.

During one of the brothers’ escapades, Puss performs an act of heroism and is rewarded with the costume, including Boots, which transforms him into Puss in Boots.  Just as in any superhero’s origin story, the costume is key to the transformation.  The transformation also sets Puss in Boots’ paws on a different path than Humpty’s criminal path, setting in motion the main conflict.

DreamWorks is also known for the referencing and changing up other films and stories, and Puss in Boots is no exception.  By blending common and well-known story elements together, the writers, Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler, and John Zack, defy the audience’s expectations because the stories’ plots and characters are familiar, yet surprising fresh.  The references come thick and fast, from James Bond franchise with the womanizing of Puss in Boots aka “Frisky Two Times” to the King Kong and the Godzilla franchise with a monster on the island and a giant Mother Goose tromping on San Ricardo.

The writers also take great liberties in adapting The Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes:  Mother Goose appears as the Golden Goose from “Jack and Beanstalk,” and Jack (voice of Billy Bob Thornton), who hasn’t been the same since he broke his crown, and Jill (voice of Amy Sedaris) play the antagonists as big, mean, ugly crooks, who have the the magic beans that Humpty wants so bad.  Humpty and his co-conspirator, Kitty Soft-Paws (voice of Salma Hayek), have a plan to steal the beans and the now-deceased giant’s Golden Goose.

Puss in Boots, who is on the run from law because Humpty tricked him into participating in a bank heist, also wants the magic beans and the Golden Goose so that he can repay the town of San Ricardo and clear his name.  With the help of Kitty Soft-Paws, Humpty convinces Puss in Boots that they all share the same desire to right the old wrong.  The relationship which develops between Puss in Boots and Kitty Soft-Paws is similar to the relationship between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly’s characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, and Puss in Boots and Kitty Soft-Paws perform some dance numbers that are reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ dance numbers because of the physicality, even if the dancers are animated in Puss in Boots.  The writers also throw many song references into the witty, fast-paced dialogue.

In addition to the excitement and story development conveyed in the dance numbers, the film’s many action sequences, from sword fights and narrow escapes to battling an irate Mother Goose, provide a lively visual element to the film.  Since Puss in Boots is on the run from the law from the beginning and, even many times, in the flashback to his and Humpty’s childhood, the story has the ever-present threat of the Puss in Boots being captured, and although Zorro lived hidden in society, Puss in Boots, because he is determined to clear his name by doing good, has the same hero aspirations as Zorro.  Also, the sword fighting, narrow escapes, and womanizing make the comparison to Zorro very clear.

The animation is beautiful, and the setting are each a masterpiece in which the action unfolds.  Gorgeous sunsets and wide vista complement the sweet village of San Ricardo while the scary sequences of chase scenes and the capture of the chick who lays the golden eggs, unfold in vast deserts and the frightening oversized castle in the clouds, which has reverted to a wilderness where the giant Mother Goose protects her chick and its Golden Eggs.

Where Puss in Boots, the film, falters is the area of providing a heartwarming narrative, and the film, instead, leaves the audience with little more than the knowledge that a new franchise has begun.  Perhaps that fatal flaw has to do with the fact that Puss in Boots decides to steal from a conveniently dead giant to right his wrongs, which also involved theft.  Perhaps it is because the lone Puss in Boots rides off into the desert sun, leaving some plot and character issues unresolved and, therefore, laying the foundation for the next installment of the story.  However, the story’s lack of true heart is the only negative thing I can find in Puss in Boots.

Despite the too-quick ending, Puss in Boots is charming and exciting, and while adults and children can enjoy it together because most jokes and story elements work on both levels, the film has jokes and elements that adults can chuckle at without worrying that the kids will understand.  The Henry Jackman’s original, Latin-inspired soundtrack and music are spectacular and compelling.  The acting and casting is exceptionally right on the money, and Banderas perfectly purrs the part of the savvy, idealistic Puss in Boots, and Hayek and Banderas have good verbal chemistry.  Galifianakis is egg-actly creepy enough for the deceitful Humpty, while Thornton and Sedaris provide a delightfully wicked, yet human, take animated bad guys and gals.

Puss in Boot is a Paramount release of a DreamWorks Animation presentation and is rated PG for “some adventure action and mild rude humor.”  Puss in Boot  runs 90 minutes and can be seen in either 3D or not, and for smaller children, the 2D version is probably better.

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