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Movie Review: Puss in Boots

October 28, 2011
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One of the sweetest pleasures in the Shrek movie franchise is the Storybook creatures, who provide equal measures of cuteness, nostalgia and revisionist humor. There are Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man, the Big Bag Wolf and the Three Little Pigs and the Three Bears and the Three Blind Mice. But the greatest and most charming of these is Puss in Boots, the suave, Spanish-accented cavalier, played by Antonio Banderas in performances as fine as Puss’s razor-sharp epée and dainty Corinthian leather boots.

Now Puss has been spun off into an 80-minute movie all his own, which gives us his origin tale, from before his adventures with Shrek. It’s a big moment for the “Furry Lover,” but he comes through, making a swashbuckling protagonist. A charmer like him needs a love interest, of course, and who else to play the tough, bewitching Kitty Softpaws but the velvet-voiced Salma Hayek, who probably purrs even when she’s ordering pizza on the phone. Puss and Kitty Softpaws are perfectly matched, and their feline characteristics often come into play with amusing and accurate detail.

The surprise casting is Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty, Puss’s best friend from the orphanage in the tiny rural village in Spain which they both grow up. Humpty is a conflicted and morally weak character, mercurial and complicated, and the animators have done wonders in creating a face (and after all, he is pretty much all face) that is at once innocent and capable of looking convincingly evil. The character’s rotund form also makes for very funny visuals, with his unwieldy bulk and gold drawstring suit.

The villains are the married couple Jack and Jill, coarse, gigantic, murderous outlaws, played by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris. These being fairytale creatures, the story also revolves around fairy tale quest: the magic beans that lead to the Golden Goose. If only it were kept that simple, but you know these movie people. They have to stuff things with double-crossings and triple-crossings, hidden motivations and backstories of childhood trauma. It IS rated PG, after all, so I guess I can’t complain when I felt some of it was a little much for my kids, ages seven and four, to follow or care about. How many children know about declawing, let alone the pain and damage that really causes a cat?

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. For the most part the complications go right over kids’ heads, as they’re meant to, and what’s left is a picture that’s  visually stunning and incredibly clever. The filmmakers avail themselves of all possible environments, from the picturesque Spanish village to a gorgeous desert area (complete with rotted out bridge over a canyon that looks more like the American Wild West than anything in Spain, at least as I know of Spain), and incredible scenes in the clouds surrounding the magical beanstalk’s castle. Beauty aside, the movie is packed with visual jokes and delights.

Music is this movie’s other sensory treat. Composer Henry Jackman utilizes folk motifs and instruments and the result is a soundtrack that does much to enhance this already terrific movie.

 

 

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