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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Puss in Boots


Puss in Boots (Four Stars)

U.S.: Chris Miller, 2011

This review is dedicated to my friend Pica.

Another Shrek movie, or, more accurately, a series spin-off? Another super-spectacular feature cartoon? Another big studio lollapalooza, this time from DreamWorks? In 3D yet? Didn’t sound artistically promising, even when the receipts started pouring in. But you can’t always tell.

Puss in Boots, which gives its starring role to Antonio Banderas’s’ swashbuckling cat, turns out to be one of my favorites of the year, a movie chockfull of goodies and a few surprises: funny, lively, charming, well written, full of action, full of character (and not just from the one with the boots), packed with genuine good times. The show centers around Banderas and his magnificently daffy voice acting and the delightful onscreen character he’s playing (to the hilt) :  the dashing feline adventurer Senor Puss in Boots of the Shrek series — another real gem of cartoon characterization. Banderas makes the movie, but the surprise is that the show has so much going in support of him as well, including first rate supporting performances by the likes of Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris and others. Directed by Chris Miller from a witty script by Tom Wheeler (and others) and visualized by production designer Aretos Guillaume and a gifted horde of artists, the movie is also often spectacularly gorgeous in a way that many of the big 3D specials unfortunately aren’t.

It’s actually one of the best movies of the year, and one of my own personal favorites: a first class entertainment, a rousingly well-made show, and a perfect showcase for Bandera’s Puss.

The plot of “Puss” comes from the  fairytale world of Charles Perrault  (Puss’s original creator), by way of Alexandre Dumas, Zorro, Casanova, Sergio Leone‘s ‘60s Italian-made, Spanish-shot spaghetti Westerns, some film noir archetypes, and a hip take on Mother Goose,  and all the other other Disneyfied or Looney Tuned cartoon fairytales tou can cram into one movie. Especially Leone, almost as big an influence here as he was in Rango. In the story, Puss is on the trail of some magic beans, now in the possession of that sleazy old couple Jack and Jill (Thornton and Sedaris), and he hooks up with the luscious Kitty (who does a torrid flamenco dance and has steamy eyes) and also with his dubious one-time best friend Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis), who , like Puss, has gone beyond the law and who also also has reason to feel betrayed by his old buddy.

Soon, the trio have collected the beans, climbed Jack‘s beanstalk though the clouds (just like Mickey, Donald and Goofy in the classic Mickey and the Beanstalk) and gotten their paws and shell-fingers on the goose that lays the golden eggs, and its mother, The Goose That Can Take on Godzilla. (Goose-Zilla?) Fights, chases revelations, tender moments and cliffhangers follow. (And when we say cliffhangers, we’re talking big cliffs and really hair-raising hangers.) It may not seem too original, but that‘s one of the reasons it works so well. You always have the feeling that everyone involved knows what they’re doing, isn’t taking themselves too seriously,  and are having a ball.

Once again, one has to wonder why this animated feature, nominally for kids and the parents and families accompanying them, is so smart and well-made and beautifully put together, when so many of the movies geared for older audiences are dopey and shoddy and second rate. Do moviemakers respect the intelligence of children and their parents more than they do the intelligence of teenagers and adults?

Maybe. But what makes this Puss in Boots work so sell? We start with Banderas. Like the great Looney Tunes vocal maestro Mel Blanc, when he gave voice to sarcastic Bugs Bunny or frazzled Daffy Duck or explosive Yosemite Sam, Banderas has contrived a speech pattern for Puss (admittedly closer to his own than Blanc’s were) that perfectly suits the visual image of his role, while also playing hilariously just a bit against it. Banderas gives us a totally cute little cat, and I mean an adorable little cat with sleek fur and melting eyes, who’s also suave, arrogant, well-dressed and elegantly charming, a swords-puss in a Spanish-looking Fairyland who can fence as well as Errol Flynn (or even better, Basil Rathbone), who can paw his way into a cantina/bar (a horse opera tavern right out of Sergio Leone or Rio Bravo), eye the barhounds and gunslingers and fearlessly order a bowl of milk. A cat of cats whose hot-blooded, cool-talking Spanish charm drives all the little pussycats mad. I defy you not to laugh at this gato!

The character may owe a little something to another Blanc-Looney Tunes-Chuck Jones creation, that persistent and amorous skunk Pepe’ Le Pew (of “For Scentimental Reasons“). But Banderas, using a voice recognizably close to his own, acts the part so well that we always feel Puss is doing his own talking, as well as his own fighting and loving, and his own fleeing the territory with the law of San Ricardo a few horse-lengths behind. The Commandante chasing Puss, by the way, is voiced, as is The “Mustached Man,” by one of this movie’s executive producers, Guillermo Del Toro (Pan‘s Labyrinth), whose stamp is definitely on the picture.

Chris Miller got no respect (and deserved at least a little) for the other Shrek movie he directed, the critically ill-received Shrek the Third. But sometimes you get better as you go along and it’s hard to find fault with anything he or the other filmmakers do here. They even use 3D creatively and well, although you’ll probably enjoy the movie just as much in 2D, at the cheaper prices.

Banderas has been stealing the Shrek movies (and they‘re not all that easy to steal), since he popped up in Shrek 2, and observers have been predicting a Puss spin-off for a while. Now the newly elevated leading man can spend part of his time trying to keep his own movie from being stolen by the ensemble behind him: Hayek as the formidable feline fatale Kitty, Galifianakis as the disturbingly flip-flopping egghead Humpty Dumpty, and Thornton and Sedaris as those pathological climbers Jack and Jill. They’re all good, and Galifianakis is sometimes touching as well.

Towering above them all, however, is that Casanova of cats, that purring Zorro, that meowing musketeer, Puss in Boots. What grace under pressure! What a feline! Banderas may never find a role that suits him so well, not even if Pedro Almodovar writes it, not even if Guillermo Del Toro writes it. (Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, with Banderas as a perverse, obsessed doctor, is in theatres this week too and he’s terrific in that too, though there he plays a sullen, unlikable wretch.)

Despite the temptations of cynicism though, I loved Puss in Boots, and I wouldn’t be at all unhappy if this wasn‘t the last time we saw Senor Boots on screen, here or with the Shreks. He was great here: doing the perfect purr of a voice, sidling up to the bar for his milk, hanging on cliffs with Galifianakis’s egg, dancing with Salma, or shooting the cantina up for a Fisftful of Fancyfeast. Adios, Gato! Viva Galifianakis! Vaya con Kitty. Ole, Puss Puss. (Pica, by the way was the late pet and longtime pretty little pal of blogdom’s Film Noir Blonde. She was a feisty little feline fatale and Puss, I know would have liked her.) 

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Puss in Boots”

  1. Sally says:

    The Pica pic is not showing up! Anyway, I can’t wait to see this movie. 🙂


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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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