‘Puss in Boots’ is nothing to be frightened of

"Puss in Boots"
DreamWorks Animation
1 hour, 30 minutes

I should say at the outset that I am not a fan of the "Shrek" movies. That's not exactly true. Looking back at my reviews of parts 1-3 (I skipped the fourth one) they pretty well sing the praises of the series. I guess it's hindsight, and perhaps parenthood, that have soured me on the big green ogre and his pals. I've never really felt these movies were appropriate for little kids, and it irks me that they are marketed that way.


That said, I didn't go see a "Shrek" movie this weekend, so I guess that's all neither here nor there. I only bring it up because the film I did see was "Puss in Boots," a "Shrek" spin-off starring Antonio Banderas as the titular feline. This time around I actually have a kid to take, and one that would seem to be in just about the right age-bracket to enjoy a big spectacle, animated Mother Goose kind of show. My son will be 4 in a month and actually raised his arms over his head and yelled "Yay!" when I told him that Humpty Dumpty was going to be in the movie. That's pure, unbridled enthusiasm for you.

But still ... the "Shrek" factor. I was more than a little apprehensive when I bought my tickets.

I needn't have worried. "Puss in Boots" is neither as funny, nor as tasteless as the "Shrek" movies, making exactly the kind of safe film I was looking for. The story opens with Puss on the hunt for the legendary magic beans, strolling into a dark tavern house for a shot of leche (milk). There's something both adorable and absurd about a cat walking upright in a pair of fancy boots with a sword and a hat. But Puss is clearly patterned after Zorro, so silly or not, he is not to be trifled with, as a pair of unfortunate toughs find out.

Soon he extracts the info he's looking for -- the beans of myth are in the possession of a pair of villainous thugs, Jack and Jill, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris. To steal the beans from these two would be quite a feat, but before Puss can execute his heist, he's waylaid by a masked feline adventurer named Kitty Softpaws. Soon it's discovered that Kitty is working with the egg himself, Humpty Dumpty, and it's at this point that film wanders in to flashback to show us how Puss got his boots in the first place, and tells of the complicated history he and Dumpty share.

But the movie can't divert for too long. We've still got to get the beans, fight Jack and Jill, climb the beanstalk, get the golden goose, and face a giant -- all in the space of a little more than 90 minutes. "Puss in Boots" is nothing if not action-packed.

Though relatively inoffensive, I will say that the Dreamworks animated movies still have nothing on Pixar in the realm of class or taste. There were a few rude jokes -- mild, but still lame. Actually, that was what made them offensive, rather than the actual content. Would the movie have been any less funny if one or two of the characters didn't get hit in the crotch? Kitty Softpaws refers to the Golden Goose as a "gold-pooper." Funny? No? Offensive? Only to the concept of quality dialogue. But, for the most part, the movie remains very tame.

Another thing I was worried about, in fact had been warned of by one review I read, was the sexual innuendo. Again -- nothing to worry about. There's almost no innuendo at all, and, other than referring to himself as a "furry lover" several times, Puss does no more than dance with Kitty, and meow at the other ladies. On the other hand, the violence did, I think, bother my son a little. The movie isn't overly violent, but there are sword fights, though no deaths. Still, he didn't understand why the good guys needed swords -- a weapon I guess he equated with villainy. So be it -- he's a gentle soul and I'm proud of it.

On the whole, however, "Puss in Boots" was huge hit with my boy, and at least a middling hit with me. It does feel a little light. Not poorly done, but considering the rich literary treasure it has to mine, a little shallow. I did appreciated that the whole thing had a kind of western feel. Or, more appropriately, a "Zorro" feel. In fact, this movie was a better "Zorro" story than the last "Zorro" on the big screen. Antonio Banderas does a great job, and it was nice to have he and Salma Hayek, as Kitty, play off each other again the way they did in "Desperado."

Zach Galifianakis is fine as Humpty, though he plays it a little straight for a movie like this. That's mild criticism, however, compared to what I was afraid of. The movie clips along and doesn't outstay its welcome. Not a bad start to a potential series. Now let's hope they remember who they're making the series for.

Grade: B+

"Puss in Boots" is rated PG for mild rude humor and cartoon violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.