Tuesday, November 17, 2015

El Gato con Botas

Film: Puss in Boots
Format: DVD from Erie Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I liked the two Shrek movies I’ve seen. With Shrek 2, the single best addition was the character of Puss in Boots. I wasn’t really surprised that Puss got his own eponymous film because I was not alone in thinking that he was the best thing in the Shrek sequel. Puss in Boots uses a bit from the movies from whence he came in terms of the style of animation, but this is a movie that is entirely its own. There’s a sense that this wants to be something more than just a spin-off property, although there’s no reason that Puss in Boots would exist or exist in this way as a stand-alone film.

So, we have Puss (Antonio Banderas) who is a fugitive from justice for a crime he claims not to have committed. He hears tell of Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), two outlaws who have come into possession of three magic beans. The magic beans have been a lifelong quest of Puss and he moves to steal them despite the huge danger posed by the two criminals. However, his attempt is thwarted by another feline thief. Neither of them get away with the beans, and Puss follows the other thief to a club.

This results in a dance fight where it is revealed that the other thief is a female named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Kitty is working for Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), someone with whom Puss has a long and tragic history. In fact, the two were childhood friends obsessed with the idea of possessing magic beans. The two get into a great deal of trouble with the law for stealing until Puss saves the mother of the local watch commander (Guillermo del Toro, who was also the executive producer). This is where he gets his trademark boots and hat. He becomes a local hero until Humpty tricks him into helping with a bank robbery, causing Puss to be pursued by the law.

Eventually, Puss is drawn into the plot to steal the magic beans from Jack and Jill. This leads to Puss, Kitty, and Humpty growing a massive beanstalk and going up to collect the legendary golden eggs. The giant is dead (Andy “Jack” Beanstalk killed him), but the eggs are guarded by something called The Great Terror. Of course, Jack and Jill are still on the prowl and there are still the legal authorities looking for the trio.

It was smart to move Puss in Boots away from the Shrek series. The biggest potential risk with a film like this one is that it will come off as something like a cash grab, trying to capitalize on a popular series. There will always be a touch of that, of course, but as much as possible has been done to make this a completely separate film with a familiar character. Aside from the fairy tale creatures and themes (Humpty is an anthropomorphic egg, for instance), this is really divorced from the Shrek universe. Even the overall color palette is different.

As should be expected from Dreamworks and the cast we’re given, the voice work is great. Banderas is the standout here, as he was with Shrek 2. I actually don’t love Salma Hayek’s performance as Kitty Softpaws. It feels like her accent comes and goes in places, almost like she’s compensating for having one at times. The result is that it feels like she’s trying to give herself an accent in places.

The story here is inventive and fun, but it feels…insubstantial? It’s kind of a Puss in Boots origin story more than anything. That’s another minor issue—there’s no idea of where this fits in with the Shrek films. It feels like it should come before them since it is sort of an origin story, but it also ends with the idea that Puss and Kitty are a couple, which doesn’t fit at all. In that respect, it’s almost like it exists in a parallel universe.

Puss in Boots is good. It’s fun and has some really good visual and verbal jokes. It’s always going to feel like an also-ran in the Shrek world, though. It’s a shame in that sense, because there’s a lot of potential for the character and a different aspect of that world. Evidently Dreamworks thinks the same thing since there was a sequel on the docket for 2018 that was pulled this year.

The truth is, though, Puss in Boots will probably never get the respect or the movie that he deserves as a character. This was a good attempt and I think it’s worth seeing. It doesn’t feel like, beyond the animation, it got the love that a Shrek film would have. Too bad—there’s a lot of potential here.

Why to watch Puss in Boots: It’s pretty entertaining.
Why not to watch: As a spin-off title, it suffers from feeling like a second-class title.


  1. fyi - The character appeared in the third and fourth Shrek movies, too, but not Kitty Softpaws. I think in terms of relase dates it came after Shrek 4, but I'm not certain.

    I liked this movie, but one thing felt out of place. They go off on this tangent about how declawing a cat is cruel and shouldn't be done. It didn't feel like it fit with the rest of the movie. And then they go and undermine their message by showing that it's only because she was declawed that Kitty can save the day.

    1. That's a good point.

      As much as I was entertained by this, it really does feel like it was cobbled together in some respect, and Puss is a good enough character to have deserved better.