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FILM REVIEW: PUSS IN BOOTS
By Roger Moore
Tribune Newspapers Critic
3 1/2 stars
DreamWorks' cunning casting of the silky Spaniard Antonio Banderas as a swashbuckling Puss in Boots pays off, brilliantly, in "Puss in Boots," a star vehicle for the nursery rhyme kitty cat from the "Shrek" movies.
Thanks to Banderas and his Corinthian-leather purr and writers who know how to use it, "Puss" is the best animated film of 2011. This is no mere "Shrek" sequel. There is sex appeal in every syllable, swagger in every line. And even kids get the joke of a voice that sensual and grand coming out of a kitty so small.
"I am but a humble gato (cat) looking for his next meal," Puss insists. But that's after he has mentioned that, as a legendary lover and swordsman, "I am known by many names: the Ginger Hit Man, Chupacabra, Frisky Two Times." So we know better than to take this con artist, thief and seducer seriously.
His childhood pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) has a plan for stealing magic beans from the burly thugs Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris). If Puss can pull off the theft, there are riches at the top of the beanstalk those beans will grow into.
"We go up the beanstalk outlaws; we come back legends!"
But first, he has to get past a competitor, a cat-suited cat-burgling kitty who turns out to be Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Before you can yell "Catfight!" they launch into an epic 3-D flamenco dance-off. Being cats, their moves include one any dog or cat owner will recognize: the butt scooch.
"How dare you do the Litter Box to me!"
This quest will test Puss, and may cost him his boots. But a gato has his principles, a code he lives by. They need cash. Maybe the local church?
"I do not steal from churches!"
Maybe from the homeless kids?
"I do not steal from orphans!"
Banderas vocally vamps this up in ways he never gets to do in live-action films. And the writers never forget how funny these words will be coming out of that voice inside that itty-bitty kitty cat.
A couple of dandy 3-D chase scenes suggest theme park rides to come, and the sight gags almost outnumber the verbal ones. In a flashback, Puss and Humpty remember the day they became "blood brothers" as kids, pricking their fingers and swapping blood -- and yellow egg yolk. Humpty's "plan" for climbing the beanstalk is written on a child's pop-up book.
Director Chris Miller ("Shrek the Third") never lets this settle into the lazy "Shrek" music videos and pop-culture riffs. The comedy comes from the characters, and the incongruity of that wondrous voice saying those dashing lines in the body of a small but not remotely "humble" gato.
MPAA rating: PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor).
Running time: 1:29.
Cast: Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots); Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws); Zach Galifianakis (Humpty Dumpty); Amy Sedaris (Jill); Billy Bob Thornton (Jack).
Credits: Directed by Chris Miller; written by Tom Wheeler; produced by Joe M. Aguilar and Latifa Ouaou. A DreamWorks animation release.
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