Friday, October 28, 2011

When Frank Sinatra’s progeny Nancy finally made good for herself and created her own success with the iconic pop tune These Boots Were Made For Walkin,’ she showed she might not be the chairman of the board, but she had enough of her own panache to make a name for herself.

Think of Shrek as the big green daddy of Dreamworks, and Puss as his little kitten baby that could.

No doubt the fine folks at that studio breathed a collective “uh oh” when the last theatre closed on Shrek 4. They knew they needed something to replace the lovable antiheroic ogre in the hearts of moviegoers who had carved out just enough of their Disney dollars to shuck at Shrek. Since some fans of that franchise continued to go even as the movies got predictable and long in the tooth just to glimpse a fang or two of Puss, they started grooming him as that potential replacement.

Would Puss In Boots be their next cash cat? Was there enough interest in a swashbuckling cat with a spanish accent and pronounced feline tendencies that he can amuse and entertain a crowd of kids and adults for a full length feature? The answer is yes, and he’s utterly cat-tastic. He is the misunderstood outlaw, the heroic tomcat Don Juan who has girlie cats humming a low purr left and right, and he has us at his first meow. He also has some help.

It largely comes in the form of a character new to the Dreamworks family, and her name is Kitty. Kitty Softpaws. Yes there are other new characters, but while they aren’t a detriment to the movie, and at times make this world more colorful, they aren’t what will drive the primary interest of us viewers. It’s the ultimate cat burglar and feline fatale, voiced by Salma Hayek, with her finely honed street smarts and frisky risky sass, who sparks the jaded tomcat’s fascination. Their interplay and hijinks are what keep the interest of the jaded filmgoer in us all. They compete, they flirt, they dance, they hiss…Who else but Salma and Antonio could make cartoon cats so sexy together?

The chief villains come in the form of Jack and Jill, whose characters, like so many in the topsy turvy fairy tale world created at Dreamworks for this and its predecessor Shrek, are completely turned on their head. Here they are a pair of terrorizing hulks that travel in a carriage pulled by a team of snarling wild boars, whom they treat like their babies… They are appropriately bizarre and menacing as voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris. Zach Galifianakis plays Humpty Dumpty, one of the three main players and fellow orphan to Puss, a chosen brother with whom he shares a a mixed history, and we as the audience don’t know if he’s a good egg, a bit scrambled, or thoroughly rotten, until the movie’s end.

The funniest aspect about this movie, and what is played up just enough, is the sheer cat-ness of both Puss and Kitty, as well as the cast-off cats and kittens in Kitty’s underground lair, “The Glitter Box.” Remembering how the dozens of cats create music by layering rhythms of cats doing what they do, like batting bells again and again and again, and banging boxes with their tails… I laughed during the movie, and chuckled again hours later. One of the most endearing traits of the lead is, as debonair and daring as he is, his cat instincts kick in at the most inopportune moments. For a cat, there’s never a wrong time to drop everything and clean or bat at shadows.

There are some very funny tricks used by the film makers, like the split screen, a la Thomas Crown Affair, to show the action from various angles and from different perspectives, using a ginger tomcat or his partners in crime as the subjects. That’s the closest they come to winking knowingly at the audience, unlike Shrek, where the many industry in-jokes eventually become tiresome.

Puss In Boots has its shortcomings. The plot, while entertaining, is as predictable as I’ve ever seen in an animated movie, and it’s about 10 minutes too long. The backgrounds don’t hold up to the jaw dropping beauty of those in Kung Fu Panda. The Humpty Dumpty character is so creepy looking, no amount of voice talent can thoroughly compensate for it.

That being said, while the backgrounds can be comparatively simplistic, the 3D is well integrated, and thoroughly impressive, and this is one cartoon best seen that way. It is obvious the film makers approached many of the scenes with an awareness of how to use the technology to best advantage. Humpty Dumpty may be creepy looking, but as written for the screen and as played by Galifianakis, he is more complicated than the usual feature animated character, and we get to understand, through the film’s action and flashbacks, why Puss has been and continues to be so affected by their interactions.

There is no doubt this movie is tailor-made for cat lovers, of which Cinema Siren is one. Clearly the film makers know cats and know their best and worst traits, and Puss can show both perfectly to make us laugh and love him. The spot on charm and purring voice of Antonio Banderas adds so much to Puss, it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever being considered to play him. When Puss says he’s been “a baaaad kitty,” he has no shame. Neither should Banderas. He should be very proud.

What will be the most interesting thing to discover with this release is will movie-goers who are not feline freaks, or who actively dislike cats, find this movie funny, endearing and entertaining? I hope so, it is certainly worthy of their time.

We will soon have the answer to that question. Then we’ll see if Puss is just “son of Shrek”, or if kitty’s got claws. Maybe, like Nancy Sinatra, he’ll step his boots into the limelight and find his own success.