Puss In Boots (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Puss In Boots (2011)

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Like Bugs Bunny before him, Puss radiates a cool sure to cause confusing feelings in some (especially considering how many times he gets lucky in this film).

Puss In Boots bears a fairly large burden of quality on its shoulders.  The last few Dreamworks films have all ranged from very good (Megamind) to great (How to Train Your Dragon).  Now we have a spin-off film starring the one true breakout character of the Shrek franchise and, cleansed of that series' ever-growing pop culture taint, is now given his own film to shine.  So, to the studio's credit, I went into PIB with higher than average expectations.

Those might have been a bit unfair, but I can't deny feeling let down by the results.  But is the underwhelming nature of Puss' action intentional?  The film is somewhat of an origin story, telling a completely isolated tale of a younger Puss as he tries to clear his name after a crime against an orphanage he (of course) did not commit.  He hasn't quite mastered the full extent of his style yet, so why am I a bit let down?

Partly because I wasn't expecting to have so passive a hero.  Antonio Banderas does the best he can to bring the same kind of charm and zest to the role and is very successful when given the opportunity.  But Puss is an observer and reactionary figure to many of the problems in his own movie, giving what action exists a sort of perfunctory drive which saps some sequences of their energy.

Humpty makes sense as the villain since he's fragile and feels like he has something to prove. Galifianakis makes him surprisingly affecting given the underdeveloped potential of this premise.

Puss (Banderas), while looking for a way to clear his name, takes up the odd job in a Robin Hood fashion, taking only from those who deserve it.  To this end he is directed by the townsfolk to tackle Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) and get the magic beans they stole.  For a minute I thought the writers would have taken a weird twist and have Jack be the Jack of the bean story, but the "Beanstalk" Jack shows up for a brief cameo later (in a narcoleptic, attention-deprived form).

Jack and Jill embody one aspect of the movie which is quite good.  They are married and Jack is looking to settle down to have a family.  This is not a plot-point in the movie per se, just great background conversation as Puss attempts to steal the beans from them after joining up with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to get to the Golden Goose.  It's a funny backdrop to the silly action, and their dry conversations are in hilarious counterpoint to their, at times, bleak and violent responses.

PIB works best when it's not pushing for the obvious jokes and actually makes a point to subvert its own Dreamworks-y tendencies.  There's a dance-off that actually makes sense in the context of the characters and builds out of a secret underground kitty club where improvised instruments join their more legitimate counterparts in a delightful sequence filled with frame within a frame action.  They even manage to find a way to subvert one of the oldest cliches of the gender neutral masked character (always turns out to be a female) with a delightful kitty who appeared onscreen anytime the obvious plot-points were made.

I very much enjoyed Puss' frequent lapses into full-on feline mode.

The film is very much aware of its posturing and turns it into a joke as much as possible, especially during the many dramatic poses in Puss' backstory.  But the main draw of the film is subdued by the thrust of the plot which, without giving away too much, saps Puss of much of his ability to be an agent in his own story.  I just can't give it a pass because of its origin tale nature, this is just shoddy decision-making in an otherwise witty script.

Then the film finally comes crashing down with another dance sequence ending.  I think the time has come for us to just accept this is Dreamworks' calling-card and I no longer hate it, I'm just mildly disappointed the effort doesn't go into stronger craftsmanship.  Still, Puss In Boots is solid, if a bit disappointing, and whatever Dreamworks is doing to reinvent themselves is still working.

Just give the poor kitty a little more to do next time.

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Puss In Boots (2011)

Directed by Chris Miller.
Screenplay by Tom Wheeler and David H. Steinberg.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  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. Nice review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

  2. Some characters work best as supporting characters. Puss in Boots was great in Shrek because he could do his bit and disappear in the background. The same act doesn’t play when he isanchoring the story.

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