Film review – Puss in Boots (2011)

6 December 2011
Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas)

Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas)

There seems to be two approaches competing against each other in Puss in Boots. On the one hand, it is an extension of the Shrek universe, which the Puss character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) originally hailed from in part two of the franchise. Puss interacts with other nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters such as estranged childhood friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and outlaws Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), while on a quest to find the goose that lays the golden eggs at the top of the giant beanstalk. On the other hand, like Rango (2011) the film adopts the iconography of the western, but less overt in its referencing and more aimed at family audiences. Although, the casting of Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, the film’s co-star, does evoke Robert Rodriguez’s wonderful 1995 spaghetti western homage Desperado, which starred Banderas and Hayek. Puss is also clearly a variation on the Zorro character, played in recent films by Banderas.

The merging of a fairy tale world with a cats-in-a-western world means that the universe that Puss in Boots is situated in never quite feels right. It’s inhabited by humans, self-aware cats like Puss and Kitty, regular cats and characters such as Humpty who is literally a large walking and talking egg. While films like the Shrek series and Rango felt self-contained with their own sense of internal logic, Puss in Boots does not. As a result, while it’s a better film than the Shrek sequels, it doesn’t come close to the inventiveness contained within the narrative cohesion of the original Shrek (2001) or Rango. It also falls far short of the other major 2011 computer generated animation, animal adventure film, Kung Fu Panda 2.

Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas)

Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas)

Despite being an uneven film, there is still much to like about Puss in Boots especially when the film is incorporating cat characteristics with that of an outlaw, with Puss inadvertently chasing after a torch light or using his cuteness like it is the Force. Banderas and Hayek clearly have a lot of fun channelling their cool and sexy action hero personas from Desperado onto Puss and Kitty. Surprisingly Puss in Boots doesn’t mine the potential for cat gags to nearly the extent that it could have.

Finishing with a Godzilla-style sequence that’s hilariously absurd and exciting, Puss in Boots contains an unexpectedly dark redemption message, which is then quickly glossed over. It’s another aspect of the film that is interesting as an isolated moment, but feels slightly perplexing when included as part of the whole film. Nevertheless, for a film with many stylistic, thematic and tonal inconsistencies it is still good fun. The use of first person cinematography in many of the action sequences uses its 3D impressively and the film contains some excellent self-aware split-screen gags.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

27 November 2009

Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris) and Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader)

Based on the 1978 children’s book by husband and wife team Judi and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is about an aspiring young inventor named Flint Lockwood. Flint lives on the island sardine fishing town Swallow Falls, which is facing a deep economic depression ever since sardines were declared to be “super gross”. When Flint invents a machine that turns water into food and then accidentally launches that machine into the stratosphere, he inadvertently saves the town when it starts to rain food. However, just when things are looking up for Flint, the food starts to mutate, resulting in bigger and bigger portions falling from the heavens to threaten not only Swallow Falls but the entire world.

Bill Hader energetically provides the voice for Flint and after doing so many scene-stealing comedic supporting roles in films such as Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Adventureland and Tropic Thunder it is nice to see Hader (well, his voice anyway) getting a lead role. Anna Faris (The House Bunny and The Scary Movie films) is also terrific voicing Sam Sparks, weather presenter and Flint’s love interest. After Princess Fiona’s transformation in Shrek, the moment in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when Sam drops her faux ditz act to reveal her inner nerd provides one of the more impressive statements in a family film about what qualities make somebody attractive. Other impressive voice-roles include James Caan as Flint’s distant yet endearing father, Bruce Campbell as Swallow Falls’s corrupt and inept mayor and Mr. T as an over zealous police officer.

The computer-generated animation nicely facilitates the rapid-fire humour and increasingly bizarre spectacle of giant items of food falling from the sky. A lot of attention has been paid to the characters’ facial expressions so that characterisation is not secondary to the action. The humour in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is often anarchic, wicked, random and very funny. This is a fun film with a lot of spirit. It is filled with wonderfully dreadful food puns and even effectively parodies disaster films. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has a lot going for it and it is honestly very difficult to say anything bad about a film that includes a complete throw-away gag where a man rips his own beard off for no good reason.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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