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Non-Review Review: Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots is a fun film. It’s a very fun family film that works because it never takes itself too serious. Breaking free of the increasingly irrelevant Shrek films, which devolved into exactly the type of feel-good fairy tale stories they originally savagely lampooned, Puss in Boots benefits from the freedom to define its own identity. Of course, it retains the trappings (after all, Puss inhabits a world with Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpty and Little Boy Blue), but it doesn’t carry the same level of baggage that its parent series does. It’s not a vicious parody of Disney values, and in fact feels remarkably straight-forward. However, the simplicity of its approach is remarkably endearing, and means it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride. Puss in Boots is solidly entertaining family fair, arriving perfectly in time for the holidays.

Here, kitty kitty kitty...

As I noted above, the film’s main strength is the fun of it all. The writers seem to have been having fun, composing an exotic blend of the western, fairy-tale, heist, monster-movie and con-movie genres into one easy-to-enjoy package. The artistic design and direction are superb, milking any number of great jokes to their full potential. Even the cast themselves (including Antonia Baderas, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek and Billy Bob Thornton) all seem to be enjoying themselves, giving nice hammy performances that befit this surreal little world. Any movie that takes a few minutes to savour the sensation of playing on the top of a cloud (rather than treating it as a mere plot point in the large storyline) is okay by me. Hell, I even love that the movie’s mandatory “sentimental scene” is done with helium voices to make it seem as silly as possible. Take that Alvin and the Chipmunks!

Even outside of the movie’s warm sense of humour, it also puts together some solid action sequences, perhaps the best in the entire series. The movie treats an attack of a giant goose like something from a Godzilla film, but with enough style and flair that it works as an engaging sequence in its own right. The movie is a wonderful mish-mash of genres, and I suspect that’s why it works so well. When Shrek first emerged, attacks on popular culture weren’t part of the standard “family film” expectations – so it seemed fresh and exciting. We’ve come a full circle from that point, where it seems that every family film requires at least a dozen hip and happening references to existing pop culture. So it seems refreshing when the movie feels like an homage to older genres more than a collection of sly references to modern movies and new songs. Outside of a Lady Gaga song playing over the final few minutes, Puss is remarkably free of such things

If the boot fits...

Instead, Puss aims rather broadly at entire genres. It’s amazing the movie is able to fit so much in, and the plot is a bit of a miss. if you think too hard about anything, you’re likely to give yourself a headache. In fairness, the movie wittily concedes the point. When a big reveal is made, we’re treated to a series of increasingly hilarious staged flashbacks to the villain’s narration, as if trying too hard to prove that this all makes perfect sense. I might have missed it the first time around, but it seems like the character retroactively inserts themselves into several scenes where I think I might have seen them had they been there the first time. I give the movie a lot of credit for conceding how little of everything makes sense, while never seeming too smug or complacent about it. The jokes and the action and the cast hold it all together, but seem to remind us not to take it all too seriously.

I also have to admit that I was impressed with the use of split-screen. Designed to evoke the work of Sergio Leone, I was surprised at how well dividing the screen into panels worked – allowing me to sense the depth in each window by contrast to each other. I’m not the largest fan of 3D, if only because it’s rarely done right – too often my eyes seem to adapt to the depth, rather than getting lost in it. If you aren’t going to treat it like a gimmick (as Fright Night did remarkably well), you need to use it very well (like Avatardid). Puss in Boots does fall into the same issues for most of its runtime, but those panels were rather wonderful.

A bad egg...

While I laud the movie’s decision to stay away from popular culture, I will concede that it does make quite a few jokes at the expense of its leading man. Most of these are allusions to Antonio Bandares’ past roles, but they never feel too intrusive. For example, the cat carves a “P” into a cloth towards the start of the film, and the movie reunites Banderas and Hayek from Desperado (and Once Upon a Time in Mexico), while it also sees our lead using a guitar (rather than a guitar case) for a weapon. However, this works so well because it all makes sense in context, rather than feeling shoehorned in. Puss is basically “Zorro as a cat” or, to be more frank about it, “Antonio Banderas as Zorro as a cat.” If it wasn’t built around Banderas, it would be built around another actor – but the idea of Antonio Banderas playing an outlaw cat is just too much fun to ignore.

I would go so far as to say that the movie wouldn’t work with Banderas, who does an excellent job lampooning the impeccably cool outlaw archetype that made him famous. He seems to relish the opportunity here even more than he did in the Shrek films, delivering ultimatums like, “The I will Tuesday Night Dance Fight you to the death!” There’s one fantastic moment where the baby Puss speaks for the first time, in Antonio Banderas’ smooth accent, which is hilarious – despite the fact that Humpty Dumpty has apparently always sounded like Zach Galifianakis as well. “I was a bad, bad kitty,” Puss confesses at one point, with perfectly deadpan delivery. “I became a hero,” he explains, “and a great lover of women…” Letting that sink in for a moment, he clarifies with some sense of pride, “a great… great lover of women.”

All that glitters...

In fairness, there is a bit of depth to it all. While not reaching the sophistication of Rango (a film which probably appealed more to adults than kids), Puss in Boots does have a few key emotional moments. Indeed, the flashback to the character’s childhood, as we observe young Humpty Dumpty try to find mythical “magic beans” is a beautiful sequence. It’s one of those rare moments that is both hilarious and almost tragic, as we admire the child’s innocence while knowing it will never pay off. There’s something almost romantic about the character’s faith in “magic”, even if it seems strange that everybody else seems to doubt him despite living in a world of talking cats and the fact that he is an egg with a giant face. You’d imagine people might be more open-minded.

In terms of holiday family entertainment, Puss in Boots is just shy of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn as the best choice of season. It’s light, but it’s fun. It’s hard to resist the charm of a movie that strips out a lot of baggage and back story from the Shrek films, while retaining the wit. It’s purr-fect for a bit of family escapism this festive season.

2 Responses

  1. I quite enjoyed this one, better than most of the Shrek movies of late.

    • That’s it, Ruth. I thought it was at least better than the most recent two, and I’d probably say it’s at least as good as the second. I watched it again lately, and I think it works because it’s wonderfully light. There’s not so many in-jokes or pop culture references, just a striaght-forward heist/revenge/monster flick.

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