Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Secret Life of Cats

I suspect there has rarely been a film in the whole history of film less in need of explanation than Dreamworks' latest, Puss In Boots. (But why let that stand in my way? I have my reputation to uphold.)

Directed by Chris Miller (Shrek the Third), Puss In Boots tells the central tale of the Shrek franchise's most popular ancillary character, the Flamenco-dancing, sword-slashing Hispanic feline. The formula responsible for such success in the Shrek films is again hewed to here, with a tossed salad of unrelated fairy tales providing the backdrop for Puss's boilerplate adventures.

Puss (Antonio Banderas) is on the cusp of realizing his lifelong goal of acquiring magic beans (which resultant beanstalk will lead him up to a castle in the clouds and hence to the golden-egg-laying goose that resides there) when he is thwarted by a be-masked feline who appears out of nowhere and nearly beats Puss to the goal. The beans are in the possession of the evil and crude Jack and Jill, who ride around in a carriage drawn by a team of red-eyed boars as they search for the proper place to plant the beans. Puss's plans thwarted, he chases his new rival across town where he discovers *gasp!* that the rival is really a girl cat (Salma Hayek) and that she is working with Puss's onetime best friend and now mortal enemy, Humpty Dumpty.

You can fill in the rest, making sure to include betrayal, an orphanage, outraged townsfolk and lots of verbal and sight gags.

So, maybe not high marks for originality exactly, but it all works and makes for a fine entertainment. I chuckled through the whole thing. It's not too intense for kids, is paced to keep them distracted, and there's enough wordplay and cleverness to entertain the adults. As always, I'm especially drawn to the technical elements. Modern animation just gets better and better technically, and the whole film is a real treat for the eye. (As an aside, one of the previews before Puss In Boots was for Martin Scorsese's upcoming holiday film Hugo, which looks to take another big step toward the seamless blending of live action and digital effects. I'm fascinated by this, since at some point in the near future a feature film will be produceable without any actual flesh and blood on the screen. The ramifications for the effects to be shown or the worlds to be in habited are being seen even now--think Avatar--but I wonder at the outcome when we will be able to replace actors altogether.)

Lastly, this is another of only a handful of films I've seen in 3D, and (the great Roger Ebert's scorn notwithstanding) I think the jury is still out about the technology. Especially in a kids' movie there's an inevitable circus stunt quality to many of the effects (which seems fine here), and while I can agree that the technology does not make for a better story per se, yet I think the added visual realism helps draw you into the story, at least into a certain kind of story. But I think the bogus applications of the technology are all too easy to envision, and there are a lot of films--say, The Other Boleyn Girl--that just don't need you to wear funny glasses to enjoy the show.  Stay tuned.

For this one, a solid effort in its genre and a fine entertainment.

Grade: B

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