October 30, 2011

Puss in Boots

Hard Boiled or A Good Egg: The Humpty Dumpty Story

Grade: B
Director: Chris Miller
Starring the voices of: AntonioBanderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Amy Sedaris
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

With its conspicuous dearth of inside jokes, gross-out gags and pop culture references, there’s little in the long-gestating Shrek spinoff Puss in Boots to link it to its animated antecedent. No Donkey, no Gingerbread Man, or certainly no oafish green ogre pops in for a cheeky cameo, leaving it to the titular swashbuckling feline to carry Dreamworks Animation’s latest fractured fairy tale on his furry hindpaws. Given Shrek’s latest lackluster sequels, perhaps a bit of distance isn’t such a bad idea.

What’s surprising is that Puss in Boots, once conceived as a straight-to-video money grab following Shrek 2, is entertaining and technically proficient, a tale of friendship and betrayal rendered with luminous visuals that make effective use of today’s pervasive – and sometimes intrusive – 3D technology.

Director Chris Miller, last seen helming the woeful Shrek the Third, redeems himself with this origin story about Puss (voiced brilliantly by Antonio Banderas), a castoff reared in a Mexican orphanage with his childhood best friend Humpty Dumpty (an equally vivacious Zach Galifianakis). The two scamps eventually part ways after Puss wins the praise of townsfolk for saving an old woman from a rampaging bull, leading an envious Humpty to betray Puss by tricking him into taking part in a local bank robbery that lands Humpty in jail and sends the wanted Puss into a life of Zorro-esque escapades.

The two set aside their animosity to team up with a sultry cat burglar named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and steal three neon-green magic beans from Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, respectively), here a burly, surly couple who bicker over Jill’s ticking biological clock. The trio plan to plantthe beans and climb the legendary beanstalk to a castle in the clouds in order to snatch the aurum-laying golden goose from its colossal Mother.

Catlovers will appreciate the sight gags designed to juxtapose Puss’ preening mojo with his innate feline tendencies – he involuntarily chases a flashlight spot, perfects a dance called The Litterbox, and laps his milk from a shot glass. Meanwhile,the dynamic visuals work on every level, from the detailed close-ups of Puss’ auburn coat to cleverly-choreographed rooftop and canyon chases and an ascentup the high-rising beanstalk.

The plot itself is a by-the-numbers trifle that bears the additional burden of being already bloated by the time Mother Goose starts marauding Puss’ hometown. It doesn’t approach even a middling Pixar effort or, for that matter, such Dreamworks’recent entrĂ©es as How to Train YourDragon and Kung Fu Panda. Still, thanks to a breezy pace, stunning palette, and Banderas and Galifianakis’ vocal energy, Puss in Boots is better than you’d have any right to expect it to be. And in today’s animated filmmaking landscape, that passes for purr-fect.

Neil Morris

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