Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Puss in Boots / *** (PG)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Puss in Boots: Antonio Banderas
Kitty Softpaws: Salma Hayek
Humpty Dumpty: Zach Galifianakis
Jack: Billy Bob Thornton
Jill: Amy Sedaris

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Chris Miller. Written by Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler, and Jon Zack. Character created by Charles Perrault. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor).

The globalization of our society is well under way, and DreamWorks Animation’s newest feature film is proof of that. When I was a child, the notion of watching a kid’s movie where the use of the Spanish word ‘leche’ was not explained to the dumbfounded American audience was unthinkable. Today, it’s easy enough to figure out that Puss in Boots is referring to his glass of milk when he demands his leche using the thick Hispanic accent of Antonio Banderas.

“Puss in Boots” gives us the first spin off of the widely popular “Shrek” animation franchise. Originally developed as a direct-to-video release, the choice to turn this into a theatrical feature was a wise one by producers. Puss in Boots is one of the most charming characters to come from the “Shrek” universe, one that demands a starring role. Since the project was originally proposed, Hispanic culture has become more widely accepted by the population. When the movie stars two talking cats and a walking, talking egg, their cultural influences hardly matter.

While born of the “Shrek” universe, there is no mention of green ogres to be found here. This is a Puss in Boots adventure, taking place in a Mexican landscape with the tone of a western, not a far cry from this year’s earlier western-themed CGI animated “Rango”. “Puss in Boots” is rooted more in fairy tales than that slightly more mature cartoon, which keeps in tradition with the “Shrek” movies. This particular Puss in Boots adventure seems to take place before this cat burglar ever met any ogres.

We find Puss (Banderas, “Spy Kids”) has already built a reputation that has placed a bounty on his head. He learns of a score that holds special interest to him. Jack (Billy Bob Thornton, “Bad News Bears”) and Jill (Amy Sedaris, “Old Dogs”) are transporting some magical beans. It makes sense that these beans can create a beanstalk portal to a castle in the sky where a goose that can lay golden eggs lives. Puss sees this as a way he might potentially pay off a debt. However, Puss’s initial efforts to steal the beans are thwarted by the sexy thief, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, “Grown Ups”). But, it’s Kitty’s employer, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, “Due Date”), who has Puss in Boots’ number.

As can be expected, we learn a great deal about PIB’s origins. We find that he was an orphan, who was a favorite of the matron of the facility. He also befriended the bullied Humpty Dumpty at a very young age. The two were best friends until something came between them. I’ll leave those details for the viewer to discover. Suffice it to say, Puss and Humpty have some trust issues to get over if they’re going to find the Golden Goose before Jack and Jill beat them to it.

Director Chris Miller (“Shrek the Third”) and the writing team fill much of the movie with typical cartoon zaniness like a musical number, a very funny feline who never says a word, and the obligatory romantic cues between Puss and Kitty. This is done with the greatest CGI skill and will entertain the all ages audience it’s aiming for. The details of the Latin American environment are convincing in their authenticity and help make this adventure a pleasure to observe. I’m sure the involvement of cinematic master Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) as a producer and voice talent helped shape the wonderful Hispanic atmosphere as well. The heavy involvement of Spanish filmmakers in a Hollywood franchise spin-off such as this is indicative of their overall influence on the art form.  

While “Puss in Boots” is an enjoyable entertainment, it isn’t much beyond that. The 3D is a great improvement over what DreamWorks produced for the final “Shrek” installment. However, if you don’t have a lot invested in CGI cartoon characters or children of your own, there isn’t really anything here to make this a must see animation. “Puss in Boots” is the fun adventure that it’s title character demands. I suppose that’s enough.

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