Puss in Boots

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: It's time for another Dreamworks animated debacle! After seeing four of these things in two years (and kinda liking some of them), you'd think I'd be used to this by now. But no, for every panda bear that does kung fu or dragon in need of training, Dreamworks seems hellbent on reminding us of their ever-lucrative Shrek franchise. Granted, he probably won't show up in this one, but that isn't stopping me from dreading this Cat Zorro nonsense.

REALITY: Why do we do this? Why do we still insist on disassembling fairy tales and reconstructing them into nonsensical monstrosities? I imagine at one time it was for the thrill of the creative endeavor. Some of Disney's best work has come out of adapting fairy tales for modern audiences, and the old Fractured Fairy Tale cartoons were fun little oddities with a postmodern bent to them. Today, though, we have a bunch of detective shows based on fairy tales, a comic book about fantasy characters living in New York City, and the Shrek movies. I can't imagine any child living today has any clue what an actual fairy tale is thanks to all of these adaptations, mashups and parodies. Puss in Boots is not helping matters.

Fun fact: cats in real life do not wear boots.Puss in Boots takes place in the Shrek universe, though thankfully it has the restraint to exclude those characters save our titular hero. Puss (Antonio Banderas) is a dashing outlaw-musketeer-cat-person looking for his next big payday. Word has it that murderous thugs Jack and Jill (Adam Sandler Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris) have come into possession of the Magic Beans. Upon attempting to steal the beans, Puss runs afoul of his childhood best friend Humpty Dumpty (Zack Galifianakis doing his best Patton Oswalt impression) as well as a cat named Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek). Despite a lot of bad blood between Puss and Humpty, they agree to team up with Kitty, steal the beans, plant the beans, climb the beanstalk and then bring home the treasure hidden inside the giant's castle in the sky.

Unfortunately, Humpty Dumpty is an utter mess of a character. When Puss explains his backstory (in a sluggish 10-minute flashback), it's established that Humpty Dumpty is not only the dramatic core of the story, but also possibly one of the villains, and yet at the same time is supposed to be the film's comic relief. That's a lot of baggage to place on a walking egg wearing a porkpie hat. Galifianakis acquits himself nicely in the voiceover, but the script calls for Humpty to do and say things that turn the character into a catch-all plot device, and he winds up becoming this film's Jar Jar Binks. He's supposed to be funny, he's supposed to play a big part in the story, we're supposed to care about him for some reason, yet his very presence in the film is completely and utterly bungled by terrible writing and character design. It's like the writers weren't sure who should move the plot forward next, so they kept defaulting to him because they simply refused to come up with any new characters.

We all know how this guy's story ends. Just watch out for the famous "sitting on the wall" scene, it doesn't go well for him.

This leads into my more general beef with Puss in Boots. This film doesn't share the manic try-anything sense of humor that the Shrek films have. With only a small handful of characters to carry the film, and only so many jokes for them to make at any given time, the result is that long stretches of this film are interminably boring. Maybe it's because after four Shrek films crammed to the gills with fairy-tale gags and joke characters and whatnot, I just naturally expected this movie to do the same.

It doesn't. In fact, aside from a few scenes of cats dancing (again with the dancing!) and a really lazy giant monster gag at the end, Puss in Boots is a pretty straightforward heist story. The problem becomes that the heist isn't particularly interesting, and all we're left with is Antonio Banderas purring like a cat and waxing valiant into a microphone. It's pretty clear the filmmakers just assumed that they could coast on Banderas' natural charisma. Once they got into production and realized that was all they had, I got the sense the whole thing broke down while animators and writers scrambled for ways to make the movie as weird as possible. "Weird is funny, right? If we just throw a bunch of weird shit into our heist movie for children, it'll be funny! Right, guys?"

It takes a deft hand and a clever mind to twist fairy tales into something new and interesting. Puss in Boots has neither at its disposal, and the result is a film that looks as fantastic as any Dreamworks film ever has, but whose story makes about as much sense as a used book of mad libs. A five-year old could come up with a better story than this. In fact, I have it on good authority that one regularly does.

Comic Mischief2/10
Fairytale Magic0/10
Puss in Boots Will ReturnWith My Luck? Shrek 5

MINORITY REPORT: For true Shrek-related Halloween thrills, why not rent rent Scared Shrekless, last year's god-awful seasonal cash-grab from Dreamworks? - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

- The Official Current Releases Facebook

– Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade (@JayDubSA)

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