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Puss in Boots

 

When you’re in the jungle, it’s not the cackle and cries of the beasts you listen for, but the quiet moments that suggest they’re actually watching.

 

Likewise, when you’re a middle-aged dude in a theater full of over-caffeinated, excitable kids, you pay attention when they shut up for a second. You notice when they lean forward to hear a cartoon cat snarl: “The egg betrayed me!” You scribble down in your notebook when they gasp as the cat says, “"You made the cat angry - you no want to make the cat angry!"

 

Let’s face it: Puss in Boots isn’t meant for someone who remembers when Tom and Jerry were the height of cartoon animation. Imagine a five-year old today giggling hysterically as a poorly drawn cat and mouse run through the reoccurring rolling landscape of a cartoon from the 1970s.

 

In many ways my childhood doesn’t seem as vivid and richly detailed as Puss in Boots.
The only way I could watch the movie, then, was as a cultural anthropologist, a stranger in a strange land, with my ears open for any suggestion that the little critters are discontent.

 

A little research: Puss in Boots is a prequel to the Shrek franchise, where the cat apparently appears as a supporting character. Like Shrek, Puss takes place in a fairy tale land where familiar characters like Humpty Dumpty and Jack and the Beanstalk rub shoulders. This means that children –or adults – vaguely familiar with the characters from Mother Goose will feel at home.


I don’t remember Shrek being this richly textured and detailed. It’s possible to get lost in the pattern of tapestries, the folds of clothes and the million other details that remind you that you are at least 100 years old and were once simple enough to be engrossed by the Super Friends and Scooby Doo …

 

I suppose there is a plot, but really Puss in Boots shouldn’t require character development, conflicts, and resolutions. Kids today should just be thrilled to watch this cat do somersaults or dance on a tight rope. Why, when I was a kid I used to play with rusty spring, empty spools of thread and discarded bottle caps…

 

But, I digress. There is a plot: Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) was boyhood friends with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). The pair lived in an orphanage and bonded over daydreams of finding the duck that lays the golden eggs, of theJack and the Beanstalk fame. Always mischievous and adventurous, they start a life of crime early, stealing treats from the nearby villagers.

 

Puss isn’t as driven by his criminal urges as his eggy friend and the two split when Humpty betrays his friend’s trust. Forced into a burglary, the cat and egg are pursued by the local constable and Puss is chased from the village. A fugitive, the cat strikes out on his own as a desperado, searching for a caper that will allow him to pay his debt to his town.

 

Fast forward to the present day. Puss hears that Jack’s magic beans have reappeared and decides to steal them. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one with that idea, and he meets up with fellow criminal Kitty Softpaw (Salma Hayek)just as the beans are within eyeshot. Come to find out, Kitty and Puss’ old friend humpty are in cahoots to steal the beans, too.

 

Eventually the three team up to not only steal the beans, but also to capture the duck that lays the golden eggs.


I imagine kids can follow this plot, even though adults like me will likely just sit agog as the cat rides a leaf as a sort of hang glider, giggle stupidly when he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, and wipe drool off our chin in the dark before we’re discovered as the dim wits we are. In a way, kids miss out on the delight adults can take in today’s animated films. They have seen the impossible so often that doesn’t strike them as being out of the ordinary at all. For them,Puss in Boots is only another in a long string of films aimed at extracting delight.

 

For cranky adults like me, it is proof that middle age is a rip off.

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