Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Release Review: Puss in Boots 3D (Chris Miller, 2011)

Puss in Boots, directed by Chris Miller, is the latest animated feature film produced by Dreamworks Animation (How to Train Your Dragon). It chronicles an early adventure of Puss in Boots, and works as a prequel to the character’s involvement in Shrek 2. Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) is a wanted outlaw, a smooth womanizer and pretty impressive with a blade.

Having escaped the clutches of a bounty hunter, he arrives in a small town, learning that the villainous couple, Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), have come into possession of the magic beans he was once pursuing with his now estranged childhood friend Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifainakas). The beans have the ability to grow a giant beanstalk that leads to the Giant’s Castle in the sky wherein resides a valuable goose with the ability to lay golden eggs.

In Puss’s lone attempt to steal the beans from Jack and Jill’s room, a masked bandit cat interrupts, leading to a pursuit that ends up in a club called the Cat Cantina. Puss and the mysterious cat have an intense ‘dance off’ before the identity of Puss’s opponent is revealed. It is Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), a notorious master thief, in cahoots with Humpty Dumpty. The troubled past between the former friends is recounted, but Puss gives the excited adventurer a chance and agrees to join them on the dangerous mission to retrieve the golden eggs.

Puss in Boots was enjoyable family fun, with enough mildly risque innuendo to please adults too. The titular hero is smooth, charming and genuinely likeable, but the story is far from memorable and it is never really clear what the film is trying to be. Obviously, it was intended to be a prequel spin-off to Shrek 2, covering Puss’ solo adventures in a time before he met Shrek and Donkey, but it never really sets up a world that we find ourselves immersed in – or one we can accept. Puss lives both amongst humans and other fairytale characters. Oddly, they all just seem to exist in harmony with one another.

Puss is now a freelance thief and outlaw, but despite their superior size and strength, humans cannot match his skills with a sword or apprehend him. From origin, Puss is found in a basket and introduced to the village orphanage like a child. But what made him so different from the other cats that live together in the depths of the town? Like the Shrek films there are some clever subversions of fairytale stories and characters. Aligning Puss with Humpty Dumpty, a walking, talking egg, and transforming Jack and Jill into the villains (the real Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk is discovered in a cell, imprisoned for selling the cow of a rival farmer) are two example. The mother of the Golden Goose (a Godzilla-sized creature) joins the party in the climax, searching for her kidnapped gold-pooping baby.

The plot is a simple, predictable and straightforward adventure and the jokes are inconsistent. The attempts to provide depth via orated recount were the only stray from the present story, but it felt like a convenient means to fill in the gaps. The voice cast seems to have some fun. Banderas is now somewhat of a veteran, infusing Puss with the usual graceful charm, and ensuring that he works just as well as a lead. Salma Hayek and Zach Galifainakas join Banderas, with the former reuniting with her Desperado co-star in another subversive Western, while the latter’s comedic talents did not serve as well as expected here. There are hit-and-miss jokes about Puss’ boots (“that’s a lot of heel for a guy”), unsubtle references to Humpty’s inevitable ‘great fall’ and too many repeated gags of Kitty Softpaws swiping items off Puss. There is also that over-utlized cliché (Pirates 4: On Stranger Tides already embarrassed itself this year) of revealing that a tough opponent is actually a disguised female. Making amends for these mishaps are some clever ‘cat jokes’ – lapping at milk, excitedly chasing a torch light and utilizing ‘that look’ (below).

There are also some interesting Western tropes thrown in, and it is hard not to compare it to Gore Verbinski’s Rango (the likely winner of Best Animated Film this year), especially when you consider that one of the seemingly endless chase sequences in Puss In Boots (the canyon one) has a striking resemblance to Rango’s superior one. The details within the animation are impressive, and the 3D is utilised well in the chase scenes (even adopting a first-person perspective on occasions), but this is middle-of-the-road (inferior to both The Adventures of Tintin and Kung-Fu Panda 2, which would also appear on my Oscar shortlist) in what is a decisively weak year for animated features.

My Rating: ★★★ (C+)


  1. The character may be here to save the day, but the movie’s only here to pass the time and it does that just fine. It also helps that I have a cat, and I'm a total sucker for them I have to say. Nice review my man.

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