Judge Clark Douglas tried putting boots on his cat. Now he's wearing nineteen bandages.
Rebel. Lover. Hero.
"How dare you do the Litter Box at me?"
Facts of the Case
Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In) is an outlaw on the run. His goal: to steal some magic beans from the notorious Jack (Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade) and Jill (Amy Sedaris, Strangers with Candy), use them to plant a giant beanstalk, steal some golden eggs from a castle in the sky and use the eggs to pay off a longstanding debt. He's aided in his quest by the alluring Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, From Dusk Till Dawn) and his former pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, Due Date), both of whom seem a little shifty. Can Puss trust his partners in crime to help him achieve his ambitious goals, or will everything fall apart before they reach the finish line?
The first word I'll use to describe Puss in Boots is "pleasant." The second I'll use is "unnecessary." There's no doubt that Puss is the most entertaining supporting character the Shrek franchise has to offer (well, Merlin is also pretty fantastic, but he's too insignificant to merit a spin-off), and listening to Antonio Banderas bring life to the feline swordsman is always a lot of fun. Still, while I was happy to see Puss again and found his star vehicle an enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes, I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing essentially played like a beautifully-produced bonus feature.
Puss in Boots is essentially an origin story, set years before the title character encountered Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Unfortunately, none of the information we're given really does much to flesh out Puss as a character, and the story never really manages to achieve any real substance despite its efforts (the Humpty/Puss relationship in particular attempts to offer some depth, but never manages to get there). The central plot is pretty thin and doesn't throw us any compelling narrative curveballs, making Puss in Boots essentially an animated hangout movie of sorts. That's actually okay, as the characters are likable and the laughs are steady enough to keep most viewers entertained. The better films in the Shrek franchise have found a nice balance between irreverent pop culture references and strong storytelling, but Puss in Boots mostly sets aside both in favor of simply chilling with some cool cats.
In some ways, Puss in Boots feels a bit more classical than the franchise that inspired it, as it offers very little in the way of trendy pop songs (save for an unexpected Lady Gaga appearance at the end) or cheeky movie quotes (save for sparingly employed lines like, "Don't make the cat angry. You do not want to make the cat angry."). It's gorgeous visually, fusing the visual styles of John Ford and Sergio Leone into a dusky, dynamic backdrop for the saga. The action sequences bristle with life and invention, serving as sharp contrast to the flatter scenes of conventional drama which appear throughout the film. There are occasional moments of delightful verbal wit ("Is it true that a cat always lands on its feet?" "No! That is just a rumor, spread by dogs."), but the biggest laughs come from the film's terrific physical comedy. The movie is at its best during those delightful moments in which Puss stops acting like Zorro and starts acting like a cat. It's a kick to see his swashbuckling grace derailed when he feels the urge to chase a beam of light which appears on a wall, and similarly fun when he politely laps his drink rather than gulping it down.
Once again, Banderas provides some fantastic voice work and makes Puss a feisty delight. The manner in which Banderas works little purrs and growls into his sultry line readings is a joy to listen to. No one else is quite on his level, but the other actors fare well enough. Salma Hayek is suitably silky as Kitty Softpaws, while Zach Galifianakis is effective as the fretful Humpty Dumpty (still, his vocal turn reveals how much physical comedy plays a role in his popularity). Billy Bob Thornton is amusingly gruff as Jack, while Amy Sedaris seems to be having fun with the ornery Jill. That's it in terms of big-name actors, but Puss in Boots executive producer Guillermo Del Toro also gets in on the action and does stellar work in a no-nonsense supporting role.
Puss in Boots (Blu-ray) looks gorgeous, offering a spectacular 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer which offers eye-popping detail, superb shadow work throughout, vibrant colors and deep blacks. Roger Deakins was brought aboard as a "visual consultant" for the film, and his advice once again works wonders (the other films he's worked on are Wall-E, Rango and How to Train Your Dragon, all of which are stunning on a visual level). It's certainly not the best film the Shrek franchise has produced, but I'd wager it's easily the best-looking of them. The TrueHD 7.1 audio track is spectacular as well, delivering a frisky, room-rattling experience which simultaneously demonstrates strength and a light touch. Dialogue sounds superb, Henry Jackman's enjoyably flavorful score is given a terrific mix and is never overwhelmed by the impressively detailed sound design. On a technical level, there's nothing to complain about.
Supplements are generous, though mixed and quality. The biggest and best is a picture-in-picture track called "The Animator's Corner" featuring director Chris Miller and producers Joe Aguilar & Latifa Ouaou. It's an informative and compelling track which strikes a nice balance between technical detail, anecdotes and story analysis and will easily prove the most satisfying supplement for older viewers. Kids will undoubtedly prefer the fun but disposable short film "The Three Diablos" (13 minutes), along with the "Dreamworks Fairy Tale," "Kitty Strikes Again," "Fairytale Pop-Up Book," "Kitty Keyboard" and "Puss' Pouncing Paw Challenge" interactive features. You also get some lightweight featurettes: "Purr-fect Pairing: The Voices Behind the Legend" (9 minutes), "Kitten to Cat" (12 minutes), "Klepto Kitty" (4 minutes) and "Glitter Box Dance Off!" (5 minutes). Plus, there's a trivia track, some deleted scenes, a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy. There's a lot of filler for the kiddies to play with, but grown-ups will probably want to stick with the Animator's Corner feature.
Puss in Boots is thinner than it ought to be, but gets by on strong action scenes, humor, exceptional animation and basic charm. Kids will dig it and their parents will find it entirely tolerable.
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