Puss Gets the Boot

Puss in Boots Reviewed By Armond White for CityArts
In those terrible Shrek movies, Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots was the only consistently satirical character. Banderas’ used his Spanish accent to make Puss a romantic, swashbuckling scoundrel (a banal jest, unlike the poignancy with which Banderas undercut the satire of Femme Fatale and The Skin I Live In). He recalled the old Warner Bros. cartoon skunk Pepe LePew but with big, pleading Walter Keane eyes–which turned out to be the extent of the joke; another pointlessly jumbled-up pop culture reference.
That’s still the basis of DreamWorks’ spin-off Puss in Boots. It’s “an origin myth” to use Hollywood’s craven comics-derived parlance, yet it has as little to do with the Shrek flicks as with the original 17th century Charles Perrault tale. Thankfully, the franchise’s annoying sarcasm is lessened but in favor of a Pixar-style adventure–how Puss, Humpty Dumpty (voiced by oafish Zach Galifianakis) and a new flirty feline Kitty Softpaws steal magic beans from Jack and Jill in order to capture the goose that lays golden eggs.
Once again, this enterprise is Shrekish (a word that deserves to represent how narrative and ingenuity are reduced to “family movie” formula). If Puss in Boots is a little less repugnant than the Shrek films it’s only due to the emphasis on animal characters and fewer grotesque, over-scaled human figures. But the mash-up of fairy tale references and insincere emotional stakes becomes baldly sentimental. (Puss and Humpty’s friendship involves deception and criminality and sappiness.) There’s a dance/fight contest between Puss and Kitty (voiced by Salma Hayek) plus a smart-ass reference to Kafka that is meaningless except to flatter smug, unthinking parents. Gone is Perrault’s legend stressing the benefit of style, purpose and savoir faire.
Even Puss and Humpty’s assault on heaven lacks metaphoric power–the imagination and beauty that distinguished Disney’s recent serene remake of Winnie the Pooh, the year’s best animated film. This Puss in Boots is only worth discussion for the evident demeaning of contemporary studio animation. Hollywood has resigned animation to sheer commercialism and critics respond to the formula obediently, without Puss’ individual wit. The Shrekishness of Puss in Boots means that it is essentially charmless.

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