“Puss in Boots”
By Bob Garver
Seven years ago, swarthy assassin-turned-good-guy Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) stole the show in “Shrek 2”. The film itself was clever and funny and Puss made it even better. As the series went along it the films became much worse and Puss became less appealing along with them. Now the decision has been made to remove the ogres from the equation and see if the films are any better with Puss center stage. The resulting film is about as unfunny as the lesser “Shrek” movies and proves that their critical failure had less to do with the choice of characters and more to do with the choice of writers.
I can see the logic in making an adorable kitty the main character for a kids’ movie. The character is highly marketable and with Christmas coming up there is no doubt that a stuffed Puss will be one of the season’s hottest toys. But for a full-length “Puss in Boots” film to work creatively, the character would have to undergo some major tweaking. He has never been much more than a feline version of Banderas’s Zorro, which was funny when he was a minor character three films ago, not so much now. The film sees him as the same one-joke character he’s always been, but this time the joke is staler than ever and the whole film is built around it.
Like the rest of the “Shrek” films, the story incorporates elements from various fairy tales. Puss teams up with his old orphanage buddy Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and a declawed housecat (Salma Hayek) to steal the Goose That Lays Golden Eggs from atop the beanstalk while the villainous Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sederis) pursue them for nefarious purposes. There’s also a plot involving betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness stemming back to Puss and Humpty’s orphanage days. Two observations: 1) Every “twist” in the story is seeable from a mile away and 2) It might be easier to take Humpty seriously as a villain and a threat if the character was known for anything other than being irreparably damaged.
I wasn’t crazy about the look of the film, especially when it came to the characters. The animators seem to have focused much more on faces than bodies, resulting in overly sharp facial features and bodies that are poorly defined. When the main characters are supposed to be cute and cuddly, we need to get a feel for what it would be like to cuddle them.
The humor is as expected. The “Shrek” series is known for toilet humor, this one has more of a litter humor. Promoting the film, many of the stars have said that the film is funny for both kids and grownups. Be weary of statements like this; what they really mean is that they’ve snuck in a few smutty jokes for adults that will probably go over kids’ heads but are still present. Still, a few gags are decent. My favorite is the angle that the film uses to show the characters falling off the beanstalk. And I guess it’s hard not to like a background character’s reactions to inflammatory actions.
“Puss in Boots” has a surprisingly dark and emotional climax with a depth badly needed in the rest of the film. Still, there seems to be little point to the movie other than to get kids to laugh just hard enough that they’ll want their parents to buy them toys. It doesn’t have nearly the imagination of the first two “Shrek” films and I’m afraid that the inevitable sequels will continue the downward spiral.
Two Stars out of Five.
“Puss in Boots” is rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor. Its running time is 90 minutes.