Saturday, October 29, 2011

Less Than Purrfect: PUSS IN BOOTS


Puss in Boots, an anthropomorphized cat with snazzy footwear, first clawed his way to smirking CGI fame with the second Shrek, showing up as a terrific foil and an adorable sight gag with a soft, yet rolling, voice provided in a near purr by Antonio Banderas. The character is a swashbuckling feline, with a twist of Zorro mixed with the roaming Banderas gunman from Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Needless to say, he was strikingly perfect in the fractured fairy tale universe in which he appeared.

Now that the Shreks have stayed well past their welcome, it’s only natural that one of the most enjoyable supporting characters has struck off on his own (albeit with a small army of credited screenwriters and Shrek the Third director Chris Miller) to forge a potential new franchise for Dreamworks Animation with what is, I suppose, a prequel to those movies. It’s mostly a failure, an entirely inconsequential film that had a minimum of my interest while it ran, but lost it as soon as the credits rolled. It’s a nice try, anyways.

In Puss in Boots the titular rogue swordsman is out to find some magic beans when he runs into a cat burglar, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and a talking egg, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). They, too, want the beans, but Humpty and Puss have some backstory to get out of the way. In an extended flashback we learn not only why these two seem to hate each other, we also get a look at the origins of Puss in Boots, a look that answers all kinds of none-too-pressing questions. Why is he an outlaw? Why does he wear those boots? You’ll find out.

With all of this out of the way, the plot can get down to business. The two cats and the egg team up to take the magic beans and grow a beanstalk to the giant’s castle where they will find the golden-egg-laying goose that will make them rich, rich, rich, I tell you! The beans are currently in the possession of a surly, thuggish Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), who just haven’t been the same since Jack fell down and broke his crown.

Lacking the emotional depth and visual energy of the Kung Fu Panda movies, Puss in Boots tries desperately to wring a few additional notes out of a one- or two-note character by sending him through a sagging plot loaded up with predictable kids movie antics and a few did-I-just-hear-that? innuendos to ostensibly delight the parents who will probably just be hoping their kids don’t ask them to explain later. It’s not entirely without its charms, but those charms are few and far between. Puss’s cat behavior is cute at times as he laps up some milk or is distracted by a beam of light and the voice performance from Banderas is simply delightful. I just wish this cat had something a little more memorable to do.

It’s all rather handsomely animated, even if the frames seem to be a bit sparse and uninteresting, especially compared to dense gag-riddled scenery of the Shreks. But what really seems to be missing most of all is a sense of urgency or necessity. It’s all perfectly harmless and easy enough to watch, but I find it hard to believe it’ll stick in the memory for very long. Even on the way back to my car, I found some of the details slipping away. It’s just barely passable and, especially in the case of whole families who’ll show up and be forced to pay 3D surcharges, that’s just not quite good enough.

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