Kitty as a picture
With the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris; Running Time: 90 minutes; Written by Tom Wheeler, Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Jon Zack; Directed by Chris Miller. Rated PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor)
This has not been a great year for animation, with lackluster sequels to “Kung Fu Panda” and “Cars” seemingly the best Hollywood can do. However, the swashbuckling cat from the “Shrek” movies is here to save the day. PUSS IN BOOTS turns out to be a tremendous amount of fun and not at all like the recent listless “Shrek” sequels.
Puss (voice of Antonio Banderas) is a cat wanted by the law but who has a complicated backstory. When attempting to steal the magic beans acquired by the thuggish Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), he finds his plans tripped up by the mysterious Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). After a dramatic duel that ends in a draw, it turns out she is in cahoots with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), with whom Puss has a long and complex history.
The three join forces to steal the beans from Jack and Jill, plant them, and go get The Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. Things don’t quite turn out as expected, and Puss will have to decide if he is a hero or a thief as Kitty also finds love conflicting with money. In short, there’s a story here! DreamWorks Animation seems finally to have figured out what makes rival Pixar’s films work: worry about the characters, not the stunt casting, and get viewers to care what happens to them.
“Puss In Boots” is easily the best animated feature out of Hollywood this year. While some of the humor is intended for the parents rather than the kids (such as Puss’s explanation as to why he’s carrying catnip with him), the writers wisely avoid the sort of pop culture references that provide easy laughs but can just as easily quickly date the film. Instead, the humor is character-driven, with some of the best jokes coming simply from the fact that we’re dealing with cats. Viewers who share their homes with felines will enjoy how much the film gets right.
As Puss, Antonio Banderas is ideally cast. The mixture of voice and animation creates a comic swashbuckler who fancies himself a great lover as well. Salma Hayek is the perfect foil as Kitty, his equal in fighting, and ideally suited as his partner. Here are two of the sexiest actors in movies today, and they convey that through their voices matched with animated cats. Now that’s talent.
As the ethically challenged Humpty Dumpty, the overexposed Galifianakis may have his best role to date. What was annoying in the “Hangover” movies seems more restrained here, possibly because – incredibly – his character is much more developed. Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris are just required to hit one note as Jack and Jill, and they hit it perfectly.
“Puss In Boots” is that rare animated film that works for kids as well as grown up entertainment. The oxymoronic “instant classic” is too easily applied to movies that are already fading from memory when they hit cable, so let’s recognize that time will be the true test of the film’s status. Instead, let’s merely predict rather than proclaim: “Puss In Boots” is destined to go into the pantheon of the great animated features.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.