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‘Shrek’ yarn plays out with well-heeled feline

Animated prequel has humor, storyline geared toward older kids

POSTED: November 10, 2011 12:30 a.m.

The Shrek franchise keeps trudging along, thanks to "Puss in Boots."

The swashbuckling, boot-shodden kitty goes solo this time, though, without a single mention or appearance of Shrek, Donkey or any of the other franchise characters.

Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is re-introduced to us as a feline Zorro. The opening scene has Puss sneaking out of a bedroom after a one-night stand with a female cat who purrs lustily at him as he goes. He escapes the cat's belligerent owner, then uses his sword to cut his trademark "P" sign with a flourish.

Banderas continues to be the perfect choice for Puss' voice, especially since he has actually played Zorro twice.

Soon, Puss encounters his ideal female counterpart. While attempting to rob three magical beans from Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), who are here turned into a perverted, ugly Bonnie & Clyde, Puss is thwarted by a cat named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).

Kitty tries to steal the beans before Puss can, but instead they both end up failing. Puss chases Kitty back to her hideout, where he finds Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).

Puss and Humpty have a long, checkered history that leads Puss to distrust both Humpty and Kitty. Puss agrees to help Humpty and Kitty steal the beans, though, because he needs to repay a debt to his hometown. The riches from the heist will help him clear his outlaw name in the town that raised him, where his adoptive mother (Constance Marie) still lives.

"Puss in Boots" is a nice adventure tale built around Puss' origin story. The animation is very good, the pace is brisk and the storyline is modest, sticking to Puss' quest for redemption, his rocky relationship with Humpty and the love story subplot. The movie profits from not overreaching.

There aren't many laughs, though, mostly because the jokes don't stray far from Puss' nether regions.

As the first scene indicates, "Puss in Boots" flirts with the line of what is acceptable in a family movie. The entire Shrek franchise has done the same thing, so this shouldn't be a surprise. This scene seems inappropriate on the one hand, but on the other, I doubt many kids are going to view it in the same way as their parents.

The rest of the movie is, thankfully, more playful than prurient, but there are too many crude jokes in general (also something of which the whole franchise is guilty). By my count, five jokes refer to male genitalia, and Puss is constantly on the prowl. He is Zorro combined with Pepe Le Pew.

Like the entire Shrek franchise, "Puss in Boots" incorporates a handful of fairy tale characters. However, it transplants them into an Old West setting, which makes them seem out of place. The secondary characters are all realistically rendered humans of the sort that normally populate Westerns.

This makes for a confusing story world and removes the movie too far from its source material. How exactly does Puss get from this world, which is perfectly suited for Zorro, Clint Eastwood or Rango, to the land of Prince Charming, dragons, castles and big green ogres?

It's also a rather dark, foreboding movie. We should probably expect anything in the Shrek franchise to be made mostly for older kids, but the marketing clearly targets the pre-school set. Thus, it's yet another instance of the advertising being more at fault than the movie when it comes to viewer demographics.

The movie does provide a nice diversion. Banderas and Hayek prove they are still a good fit (they have worked together several times before). Thornton and Sedaris mesh equally well as a decidedly menacing incarnation of Jack and Jill.

It's all in all not a bad movie. But surely this will be the final foray into the Shrek-verse. It was a good thing for a while, Dreamworks, but you really must learn to let go.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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