Review: ‘Puss in Boots’

“Puss in Boots is pretty funny sometimes, but also pretty generic and pointless.”

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

As I walked out of the screening for Puss in Boots I overheard the chirpy little voices of ragamuffins and tykes alike, all tugging on their parents coats and dresses and squeaking things like, “I can’t wait for that to come out on DVD!” So fair warning: kids are going to like Puss in Boots. Of course, kids like eating their own boogers, so I wouldn’t put too much credence in anything they say. They’re going to spend most of their lives as adults, looking back on films like Puss in Boots and thinking fairly little of them. Adults of the future and today are going to find Puss in Boots to be a mildly entertaining but utterly forgettable action-comedy that thinks cats are adorable. Of course they are, but stretching that “concept” out to 90 minutes is… well, a stretch, so they’ve tacked on a standard but uninspired western treasure-hunting story, with tacked on fairy tale elements and dance numbers tacked on to that. I’ve seen boxes of tacks with fewer tacks.

That said, I infinitely prefer this approach to the frustratingly milquetoast “world-building” of the last three Shrek sequels. This spin-off may have little to offer besides an hour-and-a-half of mere bemusement, but hey, that’s a lot better than hair-pullingly bad attempts at pandering to existing Shrek fans, spiked with wholly unnecessary pop culture throwaway gags that prevent the movies from being even remotely watchable in five years. This quote is perhaps destined to be taken out of context, but Puss in Boots is definitely better than the last three Shrek movies combined, if only because it remembers that it's supposed to be its own movie, not a love note to the first film in the franchise.

I digress. It’s easy to digress with a movie as fluffy as this one.

Puss in Boots stars Antonio Banderas and an army of animators as the titular character, whose actual fairy tale origin has been thoroughly ignored right along with those of his co-stars Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). What’s that? You’ve never heard of Kitty Softpaws? That’s because she’s not a fairy tale character, which kind of negates the whole premise, doesn’t it? (Not many hot female house cats in the land of Grimm, I suppose.) Then again, the whole movie negates the premise. Aside from a plot point revolving around magic beans, which could have easily been replaced with just about any old “X Marks The Spot” treasure hunting trope, Puss in Boots is a western, through and through. And a pretty generic one at that.

But it’s really not bad, either. Shrek the Third director Chris Miller keeps the story bounding from beat to beat, pausing only for an extended flashback detailing our hero’s origin which, again, has so little relation to the actual story of Puss in Boots that one wonders why they even bothered with the title. Even Kitty falls asleep during that part, but it sets up a strong rivalry with Humpty Dumpty and a lifelong quest to find those magic beans, and the golden eggs to which they lead. There are a number of amusing action sequences and even a protracted dance number, which is a lot less impressive in animation than it’s obviously supposed to be, since it’s not like any of the performers had to demonstrate actual physical talent or anything.

It also boasts some of the most headache-inducing 3D I’ve ever seen from an animated movie. I’d like to think that the print they screened for critics was just the victim of a low-wattage projector bulb (itself a travesty), but Puss in Boots is so dim – visually, at least – that I repeatedly had to take my 3D glasses off to watch the blurry screen just so I could convince myself that I wasn’t going blind, as ironic as that sounds. The 3D here is just not much of a selling point, even for enthusiasts, so if your kids are forcing you to see Puss in Boots in theaters, which is the only reason I can imagine most folks going in the first place, seeing it in 2D is even more highly recommended than usual.

I get the impression that if Puss in Boots had been released before Rango I would be kinder to the film, but earlier in the year we got a funnier, more original and infinitely more inspired animated western for the whole family, so I guess the comparison is inevitable. Puss in Boots is pretty funny sometimes, but also pretty generic and pointless. If you just want to watch adorable cats being adorable, YouTube is still free of charge.