Puss In Boots
Dir: Chris Miller
Cast: (Voices of) Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
If you saw the posters for this movie and thought to yourself, "Oh God, another cash cow being milked beyond capacity by the money-grubbing misers that run Hollywood?" congratulations, because you and I are basically the same person. I walked in for the screening complaining about having to watch the animated movie equivalent of 'Joey' (the disastrous F.R.I.E.N.D.S spin-off), given that Puss in Boots was a character introduced in Shrek 2.
It was therefore a pleasant surprise to walk out of Puss In Boots with a wide grin, charmed by the movie's quick wit and infectious energy. A yarn that incorporates characters from nursery rhymes, one might be tempted to categorise this movie as 'strictly for kids'. However, Puss In Boots wins you over with a few sparkling and distinctly aimed-at-accompanying-adult moments, as well as its incorrigible spirit.
In this way, Puss In Boots feels like a poorer cousin of this year's brilliant Rango, with a similar swashbuckling, Western feel, but lacking consistency in its humour. While Rango was in itself a very well written screenplay, Puss In Boots looks like it is filling in the gaps with dizzying, made-for-3D set pieces. As well executed as these sequences are, they can't hide the fact that there was only so far the writers were willing to go with the humour.
Puss In Boots chooses instead to go for the simplest formula: cats that make big eyes are irresistibly cute (as a simple YouTube search would prove). Our protagonist, as we know from the Shrek films, is the feline version of masked crime fighter Zorro. It is therefore fitting that he is voiced by Antonio Banderas, who played Zorro in 1998's highly enjoyable The Mask Of Zorro. It also helps that Banderas is one of the few men in the world who can make a cat sound sexy, thanks to his his gravelly, Spanish-accented baritone.
The story is set in a township named San Ricardo, where Puss grows up with childhood friend Humpty 'Alexander' Dumpty (voiced by the always-funny Zach Galifinakis, bears some resemblance to Steve Buscemi). The two dream of climbing up Jack's fabled beanstalk to find the goose that lays golden eggs and living there happily ever after. Alas, after a Tom-Sawyer-and-Huck-Finn-like childhood goes awry for the two, Puss is banished from the town. He then proceeds to lead the life of an outlaw with a weakness for catnip and the cattier sex.
The femme fatale in this story is Kitty Softpaws (dreamily voiced by Salma Hayek) and it is indeed a pleasure to watch the chemistry between Puss and her, whether they're gyrating sensuously as he tries to seduce her, or when they're both swinging over rooftops. The most obvious villains of this piece are Jack (Thornton) and Jill (Sedaris), who play a slightly disturbing Micky and Mallory (the serial-killing outlaws from Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers) in a subplot that doesn't quite work on any level.
Puss In Boots, overall, is a surprisingly good entertainer that shows non-PIXAR Hollywood is, perhaps, starting to put a little more thought into animated screenplays. In a year that has already seen standouts such as Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Winnie The Pooh, this is a welcome trend that we hope is here to stay.