Friday, November 04, 2011

'Puss' gets by on the charms of Banderas and Hayek

Last year the “Shrek” series petered out with the passably entertaining “Shrek Forever After.” It was clear the series was well passed its expiration date, but Hollywood always perseveres when there is money to be made and thus we have the spin off “Puss in Boots.”

All cynicism aside about the roots of the film, “Puss in Boots” is a charming, funny animated film that recaptures much of the original wit and freshness of the first “Shrek” while having its own flavor and personality.

As with “Shrek,” “Puss in Boots” is set in a world that reworks and satirizes fairy tales, but the film differs from “Shrek” by taking on a tone of a spaghetti western.

Antonio Banderas returns as the adventure seeking cat that is part Zorro and part El Mariachi, his character from “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” In this story, he is a bandit who thieves as the means to a noble end. A back story reveals that years ago Puss was betrayed by his friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and tricked into robbing his beloved home town. Left an outlaw, Puss desperately hopes to somehow repay his debt.

That chance comes in the form of heist cooked up by Humpty that involves stealing magic beans from Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), who in this universe are feared criminals, and growing the famed beanstalk that leads to the goose that lays the golden eggs. Despite his qualms about Humpty, Puss agrees to take part in the caper. It helps that the third partner in crime is the lovely Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek).

Banderas and Hayek worked together in “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and their chemistry, even just in voice performances, is tremendous. Both actors breathe so much robust life into their characters. It is ultimately their performances that make the film so enjoyable even when the films plot begins to feel stretched in spots.

Galifianakis, whose socially awkward idiot schtick in “The Hangover” and “Due Date” is wearing thin, gives a sweet, genuine performance as Humpty Dumpty. There’s some complexities to the character that Galifianakis’ vocal performance brings across naturally.

Thornton and Sedaris have a lot of fun as the bickering bandits and lovers Jack and Jill. In an amusing twist Jack wants to give up the criminal life and have kids and start a family.

The screenplay by Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler and Jon Zack is full of clever ideas, visuals and lines of dialogue. A particular favorite is the way a wagon transforms into a flying machine. The plot does become needlessly complicated in the end suggesting that there was perhaps one too many writers working on the script.

Director Chris Miller, who wrote and directed “Shrek the Third,” brings a slick visual style that emulates the “Shrek” style, but has a feel all its own. The film movies at a brisk pass and the use of split screens at various points in the film is clever and energetic.

But as previously stated it is Banderas and Hayek that make this work. Without them there really is no movie. Other actors could’ve provided the voices of these characters and done a good job, but it just wouldn’t have been the same. Their personalities are so completely infused in the characters it is hard to imagine it any other way.

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