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Puss In Boots
Tonight's Feature Presentation

PUSS IN BOOTS (2011)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie

Written By: Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler, John Zack Directed By: Chris Miller

The Short Version

Puss in Boots proves that sometimes, spin-offs can be a good thing.

Antonio Banderas plays the most charismatic screen kitty not to be part of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Speaking of music: the soundtrack is rockin’.

The pacing is quick so that everyone always stays entertained.

Puss in Boots is way too much fun to be called a bad kitty, no matter how young or old you are.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEEZBURGER.

Puss in Boots is a kitteh, and KITTEH CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER!


Pairs Well With...

CABALLERO CREAM.

Spanish cream liquer.  Kitties like cream.

“How dare you do the litterbox at me!”


Do you like cats, or at least do you not hate cats?

If the answer is “si”, then there’s really no reason not to enjoy Puss in Boots.  As far as having fun with all-ages animation goes, it’s hard to lick this kitty.

As our story begins, an infamous character makes his way into a tavern in the quiet town of San Ricardo.  He is a lover, a fighter, and an outlaw, and he goes by many names.  To some, he is El Gato Diablo.  But his most famous name – the one that appears on the “Wanted” posters all over town – is also his description, for he is none other than Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, Assassins)!

The other outlaws in the tavern quickly learn that it’s a bad idea to make the kitty angry, and having demonstrated his prowess with sword and claw, Puss in Boots inquires as to any possible “scores” that may be ripe about town.  At first he is told of gold and silver that can be found at the church and at the orphanage, but Puss in Boots makes it clear that he does not steal from churches and orphanages.  The third suggestion put forward, though, grabs his attention.  It seems that a notorious pair of ruffians by the name of Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton, Bandits, and Amy Sedaris, Elf), have pulled into town, and they have in their possession some magic beans.  Puss in Boots knows of these beans, for they are the very treasure that he has been seeking his entire life: the beans that will in turn grow that giant beanstalk that leads to the giant’s castle, wherein can be found the goose that lays the golden eggs!

In the beans, Puss in Boots sees not only the fortune he has always sought, but also his redemption from being branded as an outlaw.  Before he can steal the beans for himself, however, he must first cross paws with renowned cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, Desperado), as well as his own former best friend turned adversary, a certain Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover)…

When I went to see Puss in Boots at the theatre, I did so in a manner that went against my better instincts.  Oh, I had no qualms about seeing the film, but the thing is, I went to the early show.  You know, when little kids are awake.  Usually, when I decide to see an animated film, I’ll go to the latest show possible, just to avoid the wailing kids that no usher seem to have the will to ask their parents to control.  But here’s the funny thing: the theatre was respectably full by the time the lights dimmed, but there were almost no kids in it.  I could have counted them all on one hand.  Instead, this theatre that was at roughly ninety percent capacity was filled with adults.

For those of you out there worried that Puss in Boots is just another insipid kids’ movie, you’ll also be interested to know that this theatre full of adults went home happy.  Yes, even though a few of the jokes may sail past them, this movie is completely cool for kids, but it’s also lots of fun for grown-ups.  Dare I say it… it’s fun for whole family!

Of course, if you saw the Shrek movies from which Puss in Boots spins off, you might have guessed that already.   So here’s the next upside: unlike so many other spin-offs out there, this one doesn’t suck.

It all hinges on one thing, of course, and that’s the man behind the cat: Antonio Banderas.  Puss in Boots is even more an extension of his actor’s voice than most animated characters, and it is obvious that Banderas takes great joy in playing him.  This is easily the most charismatic cat to hit the silver screen since someone decided to film the longest-running musical in Broadway history, and it takes no imagination whatsoever to see why this is the first of Shrek’s pals to get his own spin-off.  (Sorry, Donkey; you just can’t carry a picture by yourself.)  The fun that Antonio Banderas is obviously having behind the microphone is infectious, and spreads not only into the renderings of the character’s animators, but also into the audience.  How can one not want to join the adventures of one so exuberant, who puts all of himself into everything he does while still pulling off that suave, debonair act that most guys only wish they could get to work?

Also showing up clearly across the microphones is the chemistry that Banderas has with costar Salma Hayek, with whom he’s been in live films on many occasions before.  The filmmakers knew what they had when they put these two back together again, and so they took the unusual step of letting them read their parts together in the studio.  (Normally, voice work on animated features is a solo affair, and everything is brought together only through the magic of editing.)  This allows them to play off of each other and work with the real chemistry they already had together, and the results are fantastic, making the fur fly all that much more on the screen.

Of course, it’s not just the actors; the writers need to have their fun, too, and they do, with mixed but overall positive results.  Starting with what really is the only negative point about the entire film, the writers get a bit too ambitious with their twists and turns, taking at least two or three too many and probably causing some of the younger viewers (and even a few of the adults) to lose hold of the storyline in the process.  It would be easy for the back-and-forth “whose side is everyone on anyway?” thing to get tiresome, save for the fact that everything else that the writers put into the script is such a blast that the flaws are easy to brush aside and ignore.  The story is familiar – childhood friends who became enemies team up again to try and set things right – but it plays extremely well, and even though it is a mash-up of characters from several different fairy tales, Puss in Boots never feels like it went overboard in that department, stitching the various elements together well to make a seamless and ultimately enjoyable story that’s not too silly for adults and not too sophisticated for younger viewers, either.

Once the writers have done their thing, the animators take off and run with it.  First things first: Puss in Boots is a beautifully rendered movie, never at any point carrying the “cheap” look that is the scourge of so much computer-driven animation.  Indeed, this is probably the cleanest animated feature made during the CG era that I’ve seen.  Beyond the technical, though, it all comes back to fun, and just like the actors did, the animators had themselves a blast.  Anyone who’s ever watched a cat chase a laser pointer will get a good laugh when Puss goes after the reflected light of a mirror, but the real gem of this movie comes during its biggest fight sequence.  As the sign in the building says, it is… a dance fight!

On the part of the writers, this concept is brilliant, and the animators had themselves a field day.  Along with drawing in some great dance moves and acrobatics, they also took some more inspiration from the real movements of cats, especially for those moments when the two competitors particularly “challenge” each other.  Puss may upset when Kitty “does the litterbox” at him, but what he does in turn definitely takes the cake, and anyone who’s lived with a cat (or a dog, for that matter) for a long enough time will instantly recognize it.  It’s these little details that add up and make it all work.

Of course, a dance fight is nothing without great music to dance to, and there again, Puss in Boots delivers.  No sappy “made for a sing along disc” stuff here; just awesome music.  Henry Jackman takes care of the adventurous score, and he’s helped along by the amazing classical guitar work of Rodrigo y Gabriela.  (If you’ve haven’t heard their stuff before, this is a great way to get introduced.)  Also, scary as it may seem to some, you just haven’t seen a cat dance until you’ve seen a cat dance to Lady Gaga.  (Don’t look at me like a sour puss.  You watch the movie and try to come to a different conclusion.  The song works.  However, despite its prominence in the film, it’s the one piece of music left off the official soundtrack album, so you’ll have to pick Gaga’s “Americano” up separately to complete the package.)

Bottom line, any way you care to slice it, Puss in Boots is just plain fun.  You don’t need to be a kid or have a kid to have a blast with this movie; you just need a little sense of adventure and the ability to smile.  Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws, and their friends will take care of the rest, and by the time it’s all done, you’ll be jamming to the sounds of Rodrigo y Gabriela, too.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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