Friday, October 28, 2011

Puss in Boots

Review by Pete Roche

Part prequel and part spin-off, PUSS IN BOOTS is a surprisingly entertaining fifth—yes fifth—installment in the SHREK canon.  Originally planned as a direct-to-video release, the latest computer-animated cartoon from Dreamworks is the origins story of everyone’s favorite swashbuckling orange Calico.  It’s what happened to the Flamenco feline before he met the affable ogre and his donkey (in SHREK 2). 

Antonio Banderas returns as Puss, the outlaw cat in a Cavalier hat, who must repair a broken boyhood bond with “brother” Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) before a giant goose wreaks havoc on their San Ricardo hometown.  Joining Puss and Humpty is Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek), whose delicate touch renders her the purr-fect kleptomaniac.     

While it’s unclear whether the tale occurs in or near Far Far Away, it does feature the same sort of Mother Goose-inspired characters that populate that familiar SHREK kingdom.  This time, instead of a villainous Fairy Godmother or rascally Rumpelstiltskin, our protagonists must thwart evil Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris)—who hope to convert a handful of magic beans into golden eggs. 

Puss’ beginnings are revealed via flashback, as he recounts his early years to new acquaintance / love interest Softpaws.  Raised in an orphanage by a surrogate human mother, the flirtatious furball finds a kindred spirit in the only other non-human resident, the inventive but antisocial Humpty.  When an impromptu act of bravery sets Puss on a path to glory, the envious egg-man hatches a Machiavellian plot that gets them both ousted from the village.  Noble Puss determines to redeem himself and make “Mama” Imelda proud by stopping Jack and Jill, even if it means re-teaming with his rotten-egg brother.  But Humpty has trouble being an honest ovum. 

Kudos to the Dreamworks writers for imbuing what might have been another tiresome CG sequel with enough nudge-wink laughs for parents and “holy frijoles” moments to distinguish PUSS from its SHREK siblings.  Even tykes will appreciate the do-the-right-thing message, as manifested in the titular toothsome Zorro de los Gatos.  It’s a meow-a-minute, family-friendly flick about forgiveness—and learning from one’s own mistakes.

Clever action sequences include a kitty dance-off at “The Glitter Box,” a cliff-side stagecoach chase, a rapid ascent on a massive beanstalk, and an escape from a castle in the clouds (where the thin atmosphere gives everyone a squeaky voice).  Puss puts the moves on Kitty but soon learns his black-haired, blue-eyed companion is his equal in adventure and won’t be wooed so easily.  He employs his heartwarmingly cute “big eyes” against adversaries as much as his sword, but with hilariously mixed results—and often finds chivalry taking a backseat to more primal pussycat urges (like swatting at laser lights and lapping “leche”).   And yes, parents, the 3D is worth it.

The snappy repartee between Banderas and Hayek isn’t surprising; the Hispanic hotties have played off each other before—most notably in 1995’s DESPERADO.  Besides, who else would director Chris Miller (SHREK THE THIRD) have nipped for his leading (cat) lady?  Eva Mendes was busy playing a similar role opposite Johnny Depp in the latest PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.  Sofia Vergera comes to mind, but the Modern Family vixen hasn’t the voice to match her sultry looks (it’s a recurring joke on the sitcom).  Depp appeared with Banderas and Hayek in the DESPERADO follow-up, rounding out the Robert Rodriguez trilogy.  Their mutual director pal, Guillermo del Toro, served as executive producer here. 

2 ½ out of 4 stars

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