Beyond Shrek, a cat o' fine tales
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Oct 28, 2011
"Puss in Boots" proves there is at least one cat with multiple lives. The feature-length animated spinoff - a star turn for the popular "Shrek" supporting character voiced by Antonio Banderas - is almost shockingly good. And not just because a lot of you will approach it with lowered expectations.
Let's be honest. After appearances in the last three "Shrek" outings, who would have thought that Puss would land on his feet when thrown into a movie of his own?
It turns out he does, mainly because the movie tosses him in a completely new direction, and about as far, far away from the earlier films as possible.
Oh, the character is still something of a delusional Casanova. And the action is still set in the world of fairy tales. Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, magic beans and the goose that lays the golden eggs all figure prominently here. But the story - written and directed by a bunch of people you probably never heard of, but executive-produced by Guillermo del Toro (director of "Hellboy"), who also contributes a minor voice or two - has been given a spicy spaghetti-western kick.
Set in the fictional Southwestern border town of San Ricardo, "Puss in Boots" centers on Puss's efforts to steal the aforementioned goose from a giant's castle in the clouds, access to which is only afforded by a magical beanstalk. Assisting him in this adventure are his childhood pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and rival cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who is, naturally, Puss's love interest. Their competition is a pair of outlaws, Jack and Jill, played with delightful orneriness by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris.
Yes, the voice talent is another reason the film works so well. There's no stunt casting, just good, solid performances, even down to the bit parts. I'm quite certain you've never heard of animator Bob Persichetti either, but I guarantee you'll never forget his vocal performance, in a role known only as "Ohhh Cat." It's priceless.
The animation - filled with images of red-rock buttes and majestic canyonlands - is gorgeous. But the filmmakers know better than to take things - or themselves - too seriously. There's a healthy amount of silliness here too. Humpty's full name is Humpty Alexander Dumpty. Why? Just because it sounds so ridiculous. And just because Galifianakis sounds like an Alexander. His Humpty is a PG version of the sweetly earnest but morally dubious character he played in "The Hangover."
Then there's the giddily feather-brained, flamenco-meets-"You Got Served"-style dance-off between Puss and Kitty. It is to die for.
For a kids' movie, the humor, at times, strays a bit too far into grown-up territory. There are jokes about a feline one-night stand, a portion of the male anatomy and the equation of catnip with an illegal herb of another sort. "It's for my glaucoma," says Puss, after authorities have confiscated his stash, before throwing him in jail. ("What's glaucoma?" my son asked. That led to a discussion of medical marijuana.)
I'm not saying these jokes aren't funny. They are, as is the whole movie.
It's just that they flirt with a line that doesn't need to be crossed in order to get - and to hold - Mommy and Daddy's attention. "Puss in Boots" can do that all by itself, without resorting to being un gato malo.
Contains cartoon action, a death and a bit of earthy humor.