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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 08:35 am

Puss a charmer from beginning to end

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Recapturing the sense of charm and wit that made the first two Shrek films such a delight, Chris Miller’s Puss in Boots proves that there’s still some mileage left in skewering fairy tales. While the last two Shrek features were obviously running on fumes – struggling to bring anything new to their formula and even resulting in an It’s a Wonderful Life take-off – this film comes off effortlessly, delivering one solid gag after another as it takes its engaging characters on an adventure worthy of any collection of classic fairy tales.

While Puss (voice by Antonio Banderas) struts about with a roguish swagger, we come to find out that there’s a heart of gold beating beneath his furry exterior. Orphaned, he was taken into an orphanage where other misfit fairy tale creatures reside and soon befriends Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). As they grow older, they develop a passion for finding the mythical magic beans that, when planted, will grow a beanstalk to a giant’s castle in the heavens where a goose that lays golden eggs lives. They hope to one day get the beans and eventually steal the goose, but this never comes to be. Along the way a series of mishaps occur that results in Puss being falsely accused of theft and Humpty ending up in jail. After many years, the two meet once more when it’s found out that Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) have the beans they seek and they enter into a reluctant partnership to put their childhood plan in motion. However, the presence of cat burglar Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek), sets Puss on his heels, as he’s unsure of her true intentions.

The film moves at a breakneck pace as we meet Puss leaving his latest conquest (“I was a bad kitty,” he says, referring to his love ’em and leave ’em technique) only to see him immediately become embroiled in his bean-seeking adventure. Miller and his writers have great fun folding in all sorts of cat-like behavior that undercuts Puss’ suave persona. Whether lapping at milk or being distracted by a beam of light, the chuckles come fast and furious throughout, buoyed by Banderas’ silky voice, the sound of which adds to the humor as it runs counter to the silliness on screen.

Equally effective is the adventure the characters find themselves in. Whether trying to get away from an unseen giant while up the beanstalk or dealing with a runaway stagecoach chase with Jack and Jill, Puss and Kitty leap, cavort and slash their way across the screen. Miller never lets the action get too confused and provides a kinetic and clear view of the elaborate visual hijinks the characters find themselves in. While I am no fan of the modern 3-D process, it must be said that seeing this film in that format is worth the extra couple of bucks. Miller and his team of animators provide us with densely filled and layered frames that are a wonder to behold. There’s a depth here that does add a degree of wonder to the film, effectively underscoring its fairy tale aesthetic.

In the end, while I am also no fan of kitties, I would willingly sit through another adventure involving Puss and his crew. Sure, this film is funny, exciting and adventurous but it’s Puss in Boots and its title character’s charm that puts it over the edge. Resist this kitty if you can, but you’re likely to end up as nothing more than putty in its paw.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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