Finally! The purrfectly mesmerizing feline sidekick from the Shrek cinematic franchise gets his own starring role, in, appropriately, Puss in Boots, DreamWorks’ 3-D extravaganza/kitty-origin story. Once again seductively voiced by Antonio Banderas, Puss is provided the chance in this action-packed tidbit to tell his story, although this owes less to the Charles Perrault character of fairy tale than to the imaginations of Hollywood screenwriters Tom Wheeler, Brian Lynch and Will Davies.
Broadly incorporating pop culture riffs—both narrative and visual—the movie has us believe that Puss’ major adversary, and yet deep-down soulmate, is one Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), whom the cat meets at an orphanage in the dusty town of San Ricardo. The two plan a splendid partnership to search for Jack’s magic beans, and thus attain the legendary golden goose, until Puss accidentally attains the status of hero, whereas Humpty, scorned, takes to a series of crimes and misdemeanors. Meeting again years later, Puss must decide whether to trust Humpty, in a seemingly new and improved attempt to wrest control of the beans from the decidedly un-Disney like Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), not to mention Humpty’s seeming accomplice, the deliciously adroit Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).
The movie is nothing if not action-packed, and if you’re seeing this in 3D and have any issues with heights, be forewarned. But besides the thrills and nauseating chills of seeing Puss and his friends hanging for dear nine-lives from a beanstalk tendril miles high in the sky, the movie carries the by-now expected DreamWorks wit and pizzazz. A highlight is Puss’ first meeting with the masked Kitty, who has thwarted his initial attempt to steal the beans; a dizzying chase ensues, followed by a surreal yet satisfying “dance fight,” in which the two kits must out-flamenco the other for supremacy. This is aided by the film’s rich score, by Henry Jackman, which deftly incorporates flamenco and Spanish guitar into the action.
The vocal talent is superb throughout. Thornton and Sedaris have a grand time debating their characters’ differing views on starting a family while they maraud through the countryside; Hayek coyly channels Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief; Galifianakis makes us feel Humpty’s pain even as we wonder about his sincerity; and Banderas is, well, Banderas, and he uses his remarkable inflections and ability to evoke wit and sex appeal to make even a feline in high-heeled boots seem downright seductive.