Directed by: Chris Miller (Shrek the Third)
Starring: (Voices) Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris
I had absolutely no problem sitting through Puss in Boots. I enjoyed all of it well enough—well, not so much the protracted and rather tedious gimmick of having everyone speak like they’d been huffing helium, but in the main it was fine. The problem is that two days after seeing it, I’ve forgotten just about everything about the movie. In fact, I’m tempted to stop this review right there, but I don’t think that will play so well with The Powers That Be, who are perhaps expecting something more expansive.
I do fully believe that I would have liked the film better had it been made right after Shrek 2 (2004). As it is, the one gag in Puss in Boots that I laughed outright at was grounded in the ending credits for that seven-year-old film. The problem is that seven years—and two less-than-terrific Shrek movies—later, it’s all just ... well, not so fresh and funny anymore. In fact, the best way I can think to describe Puss in Boots is that it’s pretty consistently pleasant. Not that I think anyone’s looking to me for a breakout quote on this one, but “pretty consistently pleasant” isn’t the sort of thing that rings the gong at the box office.
What we have here is a Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) origins story. (The comic book genre has so very much to answer for, including introducing the idea that we need whole movies explaining the early days of popular characters.) This means we learn that Puss grew up in an orphanage where he befriended social outcast Humpty Alexander Dumpty. (Well, if Mr. Christ can have a middle name beginning with “H” I see no reason Humpty Dumpty oughtn’t have one.) Humpty is given voice by Zach Galifianakis and is one of the more troublesome things about the movie. I think the bigger problem stems from a combination of the writing and the actor, but the movie gets no help from the good-guy/bad-guy stuff and the character’s incessant whining about his lot in life and how Puss betrayed him—never mind that he had just betrayed Puss.
The whole thing centers around Humpty’s obsession to find the magic beans of legend, grow a beanstalk and snatch some golden eggs—an obsession in which he includes Puss. But this has led to a life of petty crime, which, for Puss, comes to an end when he accidentally does something that makes him a local hero, driving a wedge between the friends. Humpty dupes Puss into assisting with a robbery that quickly goes wrong. This leaves Humpty going to prison and Puss a wanted criminal. Years later, Humpty uses the allure of Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to help recruit Puss into stealing the already-stolen beans from the evil Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris).
What follows is entertaining enough, and is blessedly free of pop-culture references for the most part (the one I caught was actually pretty funny, even if Ricardo Montalban used it more appropriately in Spy Kids 3D). The rethinking of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is clever enough, and the animation—and, yes, even the 3D—was creative enough to make most of it reasonably exciting, too. The idea of an enraged gigantic Goose That Laid the Golden Egg coming after her golden-egg-laying gosling like Mama Gorgo taking London by storm is solid enough and makes for a nice riff on giant monster movies.
In the end, it’s harmless and blameless. Kids should like it and adults shouldn’t find it painful (think The Smurfs and you’ll love every minute of this). That’s probably as much as you could reasonably expect. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.