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At the very least a relief from the last couple of entries of the Shrek series that spawned it, Puss in Boots is a perfectly diverting romp that happens to showcase some of the best 3D work yet from a mainstream animated feature. Colorful, clever enough, free of cloying showbiz in-jokes, action-packed without being ridiculous about it and even well choreographed, this latest DreamWorks Animation offering moves Antonio Banderas’ dashing little kitty centerstage in an entertaining way that points to strong, if not blockbuster, box office results in all markets but particularly in Spanish-speaking territories.
In a year that has seen the most striking 3D achievements created by two veteran German filmmakers, Wim Wenders with Pina and Werner Herzog with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Puss in Boots is about as good as Hollywood animators have gotten thus far in visualizing a film from a three-dimensional point of view. In the assorted chases, sword fights, dance interludes, ascents into the clouds, perilous treks through forest and jungles and even more conventional dialogue scenes, it’s clear that the filmmakers have diligently applied themselves to conceiving the shots from dynamic dramatic perspectives that would make use of 3D as a constructive tool and not just a gimmick. As a result, this is one film for which paying the extra-dimensional fare can be enthusiastically recommended.
Hovering throughout between passably entertaining and beguiling, Puss is set in a world that feels at least a few mountain ranges away from the Ruritarian kingdom inhabited by Shrek, a place that feels like a cross between a Mediterranean district of Spain and a Sergio Leone version of Mexico. At the outset, Puss is a wanted cat, a short orange critter with green eyes, feathered hat and large boots who’s after some magic beans possessed by notorious outlaws Jack and Jill, who are so ugly and gross as to make Shrek himself look like a matinee idol (which, after all, he is).
Taking refuge in a neatly conceived cat cantina, the ever-bold Puss engages in a combative pas de deux with an agile leather-hooded feline who turns out to be a senorita, Kitty Softpaws by name (Salma Hayek), a resourceful warrior whose tragic flaw is that she’s been declawed. From their sexy dance moves and obviously affinities, there can be no doubt these two belong together, but first there is work to do.
Also on hand in San Ricardo is the decidedly uncatty Humpty Dumpty. Beautifully and simply designed with an appealing cherubic face and voiced by Zach Galifianakis in way that charms no matter how nefarious his ambitions, Humpty benefits from the imaginative leaps screenwriter Tom Wheeler makes with a character that began and ended life in a four-line fairytale. As illustrated in a 10-minute flashback, Humpty and Puss were one-time fellow outcasts at the local orphanage, best friends until the beret-wearing egghead betrayed his furry friend by tricking him into a botched bank robbery scheme.
Since then, Humpty has been a bad egg, even a deviled one, in Puss’ book. But the chance to liberate the luminous beans from such unworthies as Jack and Jill proves an irresistible lure to patching things up, resulting in an unexpected trip to some 3D-enhanced heavens where the Golden Goose and her frequent gilded deposits are theirs for the taking. It then comes down to a battle between Humpty’s instinct for ceaseless treacheries and Puss’ need of redemption, which is played out against the comically surreal spectacle of a white goose the size of King Kong laying waste to a village while in desperate search for her fluffy gosling.
Director Chris Miller, in markedly better form than when he made Shrek the Third, gets it all done in 90 minutes flat and spends enough time on sparring matches between Puss and Kitty to generate what pass for sparks in a PG-rated animated film. Partly this is due to the attractive conception of the characters themselves — Puss is a self-deprecating, sometimes bumbling but ultimately dashing swordsman, while Kitty is taunting, slinky and resourceful — but also thanks to their vigorous physicality and the spirited and knowing vocal performances by Banderas and Hayek.
Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris are pretty funny as crusty old Jack and Jill, whose thoughts of settling down and having a baby suggest scary prospects come sequel time. The dancing, overseen by Helios Dance Theater artistic director Laura Gorenstein Miller, is so spirited that it makes one ponder the difficulties of choreographing cartoon characters, while Henry Jackman’s score is vigorous and agreeably multiflavored.
Opens: Oct. 28 (Paramount/DreamWorks)
Production: DreamWorks Animation
Voice cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris
Director: Chris Miller
Screenwriter: Tom Wheeler, story by Brian Lynch, Will Davies, Tom Wheeler
Producers: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou
Executive producers: Andrew Adamson, Guillermo Del Toro
Production designer: Guillaume Aretos
Editor: Eric Dapkewicz
Music: Henry Jackman
PG rating, 90 minutes
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