Puss In Boots 3D (U)


Dir: Chris Miller

Voices: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek

A FINE pair of peepers can take a body far in the movies. Witness Elizabeth Taylor's cerulean eyes, or Bette Davis's stare, enough to turn a man to dust. Paul Newman was dealt the coolest of hands with his baby blues. And then there was Puss in Boots. From the moment in Shrek 2 when he clutched his hat between his ickle paws, turned his ears downwards and gazed up into the camera like a cross between Oliver Twist and Bambi, an animated star was born.

Sure, Antonio Banderas had to carry on voicing a supporting role in Shreks 3 and 4, but ditto Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona. It can be tough standing out from the animated crowd. In the end, it was the cat character that got the franchise cream, as shown in this, the first feature-length spin-off from the hit family movies. The 3D is first class, which is just as well as the plot is as dense as an (overgrown) enchanted forest and you can count the number of great jokes on one paw.

Chris Miller's tale is an origins story that takes the legend of Puss back to pre-Shrek days. Before we can get going, Miller, who helmed the third Shrek, reintroduces the character via a close-up of those inky eyes. It has, after all, been a whole year between Shrek Forever After and this film.

Acquaintances rekindled, it's on with an enjoyable show. Puss discovers that Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) are due in town with their magic beans. Jack and Jill, it is fair to say, have not aged well. Not only have they turned to crime in middle age but they both look like hairy-bottomed truckers, Jill especially. In their favour, they have a bag of magic beans that they hope will lead all the way to the goose that lays the golden doodahs. See own bedtime stories for further details.

It is while trying to relieve Jack and Jill of their beans that Puss discovers he has a rival in the shapely form of Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek). Her arrival opens the door to another character from Puss's past – Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover).

As we see from a flashback sequence that's among the film's best sections, Puss and Humpty go back many years, all the way to the orphanage. Adversity throws Puss in Boots, or Puss in Bootees as he then was, together. Kitten and egg believe they are brothers in arms, fur and shell, but fate, cruel fate, has other ideas.

We learn all this while another strand, the pursuit of the golden goose, is playing out. Puss in Boots is ideally suited to that rare soul who has ever complained that the trouble with animated films is that the stories just don't have enough depth. On and on this one goes, piling in the information, twists and turns. I've seen Bergman films aiming for fewer layers. There is enough going on to keep older children engaged, but younger ones could be slightly confused while adults should prepare for gentle boredom. You can always pass the time by playing hunt the jokes.

Ah, the jokes. There are a couple of cute visual ones, more of Puss's wide-eyed staring, and several in-gags for the cat lovers among the audience (of which one assumes there will be many). What's lacking is the scattergun approach to wisecracks that the Shrek movies did so well. Not every missive hit the mark in Shrek, but there were enough giggles to go round all the age groups. In Puss in Boots, too much effort is spent on keeping the over-elaborate story going and not enough on ramping up the silliness.

With laughs secondary to plot, it's left to the characters to hold the attention, and they hold up well enough. Humpty, an egg with a face and a dastardly way about him, does a tad too well on the creepiness front. While not quite the stuff of nightmares, he's an odd bod. Hayek has found a suitably slinky avatar in the form of Kitty Softpaws. Like a feline Jessica Rabbit before her, Kitty S sashays across the screen. The search for a feminist cartoon character continues.

As for the 3D, fur has never looked more snuggly. The entire film is beautifully drawn, all rich colours and finely detailed scenes. One detects the eye of Guillermo del Toro (producer and the voice of two characters) at work.

Banderas has had a rum old career in the movies, leaping from early Almodovar to Zorro. Funny that the most famous Spanish actor of his generation should score such a hit with what was originally a French creation. There's mileage in the Puss in Boots character yet – as long as kitty finds a way to be more witty next time.