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Puss in Boots

This sexy take on a children’s story is sure to bring up some uncomfortable questions

Antonio Bandera voices the sexy swashbuckling cat in the Puss In Boots origin story. <<© 2011 DreamWorkz Pictures>>

Antonio Banderas burst onto the American film scene in 1995 with his star-making turn as El Mariachi in Desperado. Since then, he’s added a few more Latin lovers to his filmography, with the latest an orange tabby cat. Beyond retelling the Zorro mythos — which Banderas also tackled in the ’90s — Puss in Boots lets you know that the Puss, voiced with breathy charm by Banderas, is one sexy kitty.
    By the time the opening credits roll, Puss has had a one-night stand with a pretty kitty whose name he can’t quite remember.
    The story is supposed to explain how Puss became the deadly assassin who tried to kill Shrek. What it really wants to do is remind you that Antonio Banderas, even in cat form, is one sexy beast.
    We begin with Puss on the lam. Growing up in an orphanage, Puss befriended one bad egg, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis: The Hangover Part II). While Puss is content with small town life, Humpty has bigger plans and tricks the trusting tabby into helping him rob the town’s only bank.
    Disgraced and hoping to win back his adopted mother’s pride, Puss sets out to make things right by stealing magic beans from legendary outlaws Jack (Billy Bob Thorton: Faster) and Jill (Amy Sedaris: Beware the Gonzo). Puss’ plan is to plant the magic beans, climb the beanstalk and steal the goose that laid the golden egg. Once he’s got the goose’s gander, Puss plans to return to his hometown and distribute golden eggs to the townspeople. That sure is a lot of stealing for a cat who wants to prove he’s no thief.
    Along the way, Puss reconnects with Humpty and meets a fellow feline thief, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek: Americano). Kitty is a declawed pickpocket with a deft touch, but she’s also the reason this movie goes from flawed to uncomfortable. Kitty is spunky and independent, and the mere sight of her turns Puss into a purring Pepe Le Pew.
    That’s the major problem with what could have been a serviceable but forgettable addition to the Shrek world. Puss is kind of a creep. This isn’t entirely Banderas’ fault, for he’s excellent with Puss during the action sequences and sweet when talking about his beloved mama. But it’s hard not to sound gross when reciting such dialog as “they call me the furry lover.”
    Another oddity is the movie’s setting. While the Shrek movies were derived from a fantastical version of the modern world, Puss seems to come from Sergio Leone’s version of Mexico. The townspeople are poor and dirty, and there’s little of either technology or fantastical elements, aside from the talking animals. Did Puss come from an alternate universe? Or were the writers satisfied to set Hispanic characters in a stereotype?
    There’s also the question of how this story explains the origins of Puss. When we first meet the cat in Shrek II, he’s hired to murder the main character. Only after being spared in a fight does he join the good guys. In this film Puss is built up to be the Tabby Zorro. How did he get from here to a murder-for-hire thug?
    Still, the movie isn’t only sour milk. Hayek is fun and sassy as a cat burglar who rolls her eyes at Puss’ schtick. Thorton and Sedaris are oddly charming as the redneck coupling of Jack and Jill, rolling about the countryside in a hog-drawn carriage. But the odd aggressive portrayal of Puss’ sexuality makes the entire film feel icky. Let’s just hope Banderas doesn’t come out with a series of sexy Nasonex Bee commercials.
    As far as the film goes, young enough children probably won’t understand that Puss is a letch and will enjoy the animation. But if your kid is starting to ask questions about the birds and the bees, you may want to skip this film lest you have to add horny tabby cats to that talk.

Fair Animation • PG • 90 mins.