12 December 2011


Would I be incorrect to credit the buzz of anticipation around Puss In Boots to the fact that it appears to be a film arriving seven years too late? 2004's Shrek 2, a film which looks better in retrospect for not having sunk as low as the sequels that followed, reinvented the character as a feline contract killer in the vein of Zorro, accordingly voiced by Antonio Banderas, and Puss was one of the comic highlights of the film. A spin-off film released shortly after would have been both timely and welcome, but as it turns out, it's predated by Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After.

Furthermore, it's not only a spin-off, but a prequel, that most precarious of cinematic endeavours. In the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the origin story superfluously expanded upon the salient points made in X-Men 2. As no such backstory can be picked up from the Shrek films, Puss In Boots finds our hero as a wanted cat, travelling the land, and trying to clear his name in connection with a terrible crime against his home village. The egg who framed him, Humpty Dumpty, comes to him with a sultry feline associate, Kitty Softpaws, and a daring heist plan to raid the legendary giant's castle, via beanstalk, naturally.

The film carries some of the baggage that brought down the Shrek sequels, in as much as most of the iconic fairytale characters have been more or less covered by a series that even found time for Robin Hood and King Arthur. Any fifth Shrek film could only have lampooned Quasimodo or Hercules, considering how, by the time of Shrek Forever After, it became the Disneyfied commercial machine that it initially set out to parody. But Puss In Boots also reaps the benefits of being liberated from a character whose happy ending came three sequels before they decided to stop making movies about him.

As much as I've measured this film against Wolverine, this emancipation of Puss could also be related to the way in which the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, in the way that Jack Sparrow is promoted to protagonist and the original leads are nowhere to be seen. For this purpose, an origin story is contrived, to take the pressure off of making it funny for the whole duration. The idea of a clothed, sword-fencing cat, like most fairytale concepts, is absurd, and it's always been particularly funny with the energetic portrayal of Banderas behind it. This annexe to the character shows the renewed confidence of DreamWorks' fantastical films of late, but also exposes the diminished confidence in their own sense of humour.

It's largely unjustified too, because while Puss In Boots is many things that it need not be, it is definitely not lacking in wit, or warmth. There are a number of great recurring gags, and those fairytale characters that are left, including Humpty, the golden goose and Jack and Jill, are generally re-conceptualised in a way that is more reminiscent of the first Shrek film than of the sequels. Though the confused portrayal and plotting of Humpty's character over-reaches at times, there's a quite risqué representation of Jack and Jill, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, as a redneck married couple whose character designs are unsettlingly similar. Almost familial, even. And then, they start chit-chatting about having babies together...

If the plot of Puss In Boots is contrived, it is, at least, less contrived than this summer's emancipation of Captain Jack, and this film as a whole is a lot more enjoyable. The forced merging of separate characters and motivations distracts more from the real charm of the production, and the plot is never as engaging as the comedy, or Banderas' charming vocal performance. Those moments are the best reason to see Puss In Boots, and DreamWorks, as much as I've appreciated their recent output, would do well to keep in touch with that sense of humour as their films are taken more seriously.

Puss In Boots is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Puss In Boots, why not share your comments below? Coming soon: "Madagascar 3- Europe's Most Wanted", the epic continuation of the Madagascar saga... urgh.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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