Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2011

Puss in Boots

The Cat With No Name

'Puss in Boots' shoots its hairball too early, offering dwindling returns after an inspired opening

Puss in Boots
Paramount Pictures
Director: Chris Miller
Screenplay: Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler and Jon Zack
Starring: The voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris and Constance Marie
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Opened October 28, 2011
(out of four)

Puss in Boots loses its footing early and never gets it back. It begins with a charming establishing scene and continues with a brilliant sequence that culminates in a dance-off between the titular Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) and a mysterious fellow outlaw in a black mask.

That the film reaches its apex in the first 10 or 15 minutes isn't such a terrible crime - the letdown is that the rest of it settles into such a dry and unimaginative routine.

It's a shame, because it had so dramatically exceeded expectations with its opening. Puss in Boots is a spinoff from the Shrek series, which Puss has been a scene-stealing part of since the second installment. But that franchise ran out of steam a long time ago. Offshoots based around supporting characters don't exactly have a great track record.

Which is why the great start is so surprising. There is more creative juice in those first 15 minutes than the whole of Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After. Unfortunately, it can't keep up that momentum.

There's a critical shift right after the aforementioned setpiece, as the creaky wheels of the story start rolling in and taking over - an unintentional byproduct being that the film loses its energy and purpose. It goes from creating comedy to mechanically working the characters into a plot. The original Shrek is an example of how to do both simultaneously. The story there was so traditional, it was basically a MacGuffin - it served primarily as a vehicle for the film's neverending stream of parody, pop culture, satire and non-sequitur.

Puss in Boots gets the order wrong. Well, OK, I shouldn't say "wrong," because there have been plenty of great animated films that focused most of their attention on the story itself. But in this case, the story itself is, once again, very familiar. There are no surprises. Which is perfectly fine - there weren't many surprises in the actual story part of Shrek, either. That's where the comedy came in. The familiar story was the canvas for everything else.

Puss in Boots takes no such approach, and neither does it do anything interesting with its story of betrayal and redemption among fairy-tale heroes. It just glides breezily along, never totally unpleasant but never especially exciting, either.

Puss is, as you certainly know by now, a smooth-talking ladies' man, a cat without a country, a drifter, an outlaw with a thirst for danger. He's had his sights set on magic beans for nearly his entire adult life - magic beans that will give rise to a giant beanstalk and a goose that lays giant golden eggs. But after another wild (yes, I'm going there) goose chase goes awry, he resigns himself to the fact that those elusive beans are probably elusive because they do not exist.

As fate would have it, his old chum, his surrogate hermano, Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) shows up, years of bad blood between he and Puss having festered since they last saw one another. They were once inseparable, two orphans in the same town with the same dream. Until fame took ahold of Puss, leaving Humpty to his own devices and into a life of crime. Eventually, there was a betrayal - though there is a lingering disagreement over who betrayed whom.

In any case, Humpty returns with a mea culpa, having put aside his bottled-up anger, disappointment and resentment. He offers Puss the chance to join him in finally fulfilling their shared dream of magic beans and golden eggs. Puss is initially skeptical, but it's the 1-900 voice and amorous advances of Humpty's sidekick, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek, lusty even in animated feline form), that convince him to tag along.

Where the story goes from there will be surprising to no one, amusing only in fits and starts and, quite frankly, a bit lazy. Puss in Boots gets our hopes up early, only to disappoint us later on. I think I know how Humpty feels.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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