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Puss in Boots 

Kissin' pussies - Antonio Bandaras and Salma Hayek sing the feline electric

click to enlarge Bad egg Zach Galifinakis (l.) and camped-up feline - Antonio Banderas in Puss in Boots.
  • Bad egg Zach Galifinakis (l.) and camped-up felineAntonio Banderas in Puss in Boots.

Puss in Boots

 

B-

Having rightly surmised that they had wrung all the possible joy out of the Shrek series, the always-a-bridesmaid team at DreamWorks animation did the only logical thing; they spun a side character off.

Not just a spinoff, but also a prequel to boot (sigh). Puss merrily weaves the backstory of the swashbuckling feline dandy, who, we learn, was always the troublemaker of the litter. In this universe, the famous French rouge cat has morphed into a Spaniard, voiced with honey-dripping mellifluousness by Antonio Banderas. The perpetually suave star has a blast sending up his debonair image, unashamed to camp it up in cartoon format.

Selma Hayek stars as his rival-turned-lover, Kitty Softpaws; considering their co-starring history, it'd seem like cheap stunt casting, but the pair work wonderfully together so you won't mind.

The third wheel here comes in the roly-poly form of Humpty Dumpty, performed with relatively low-key ease by Zach Galifinakis, though it could just as easily been David Cross, Jonah Hill, etc. Here Humpty, a childhood friend of the lead, has become a bad egg; a hard-boiled con man who charms his old chum to join him in an elaborate heist of some fabled magic beans.

Puss in Boots is uninspired but enjoyable fluff, reveling in its parent franchise's penchant for spoofing fairytale conventions; for instance, we learn that Humpty Dumpty's middle name is "Alexander," and that Jack and Jill are a married pair of squabbling cantankerous petty criminals, voiced with trailer park grace by Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton.

Where the Shrek franchise had become besotted with pop culture gags and winking showbiz inside jokes, Puss comes off as almost observational in approach, milking laughs more from character quirks than broad rejects from Jay Leno's monologue. This is a far cry from the brutal, brain-damaged assaults on good taste waged by the Smurfs — no one here raps or break dances, though there is a nightclub flamenco dance-off. This sequence is actually the flicks' highlight, loaded with sight gags like the other kitties playfully swatting at the blinking disco lights, as if they were balls of string.

This is a jaunty, if forgettable, little romp, that rushes through plot points to get to set pieces, like the climactic Giant Goose attack. That's good enough; Puss in Boots never slows down enough to concern itself with pacing or plotting, and like any good cat burglar; it always lands on its feet.

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