There are dozens of brief sequences in the film which, if viewed by themselves, might convince you that this is an enormously entertaining and imaginative creation. Exhibit A is the film’s title character as voiced by Antonio Banderas. I’ve always liked Banderas. The problem here is that he’s done exactly what the director has told him to do, which is to whisper just about every line. Now Antonio is a fine whisperer, and used selectively, this can be an effective tool. But when you’re the lead character and you say every line that way, it gets tiresome. I feel safe indicting the director for this, rather than Banderas, because another form of this problem pervades just about every line said by every character – they’re all delivered as if every line is The Most Important Line In The Movie. As we say in the graphic design world – If everything is emphasized, then nothing is emphasized.
This approach probably makes it pretty easy to put together an impressive trailer or TV commercial, and it might even work for a certain kind of audience member. By “certain kind” I mean someone who keeps nodding off, or someone who is totally wasted and doesn’t remember what happened 30 seconds ago. For the rest of us though, it’s pretty wearying.
There are also problems with the screenplay. The main villains of the piece, Jack & Jill, are drawn to look ferociously bad. As voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, they sound pretty bad. And while they do a few pretty nasty things, their villainy is undercut by the device of having them engage in an ongoing discussion about having children together. I know it’s meant to be a humorous juxtaposition of elements – the big evil characters bogged down by common domestic issues – but it doesn’t work here. It doesn’t bounce; it clanks.
Compounding the Jack & Jill issue is the character of Humpty Dumpty. He is somewhere in between a good guy and a bad guy, and part of the plot’s machinery is to keep us wondering about his true character and motives. That might be fine if he had a clear villain to play against, but since he doesn’t, the result is a muddle that leaves the plot inappropriately out of focus.
One friend of mine has already offered the excuse of, “Well it’s a kids’ movie; what do you want?” This sort of attitude has pissed me off for a long time, the notion that our standards can be lowered because “it’s just for kids.” The late Mickey Miners, longtime producer of excellent children’s theater in Detroit, put it something like this: “There are two kinds of shows. The distinction isn’t between comedy and drama. It isn’t between classical and contemporary. It isn’t between adult shows and kids shows. The two kinds are good shows and bad shows.”
If this is a new notion to you, you might reasonably think that I’m talking nonsense. After all, isn’t it obvious that the typical child has no understanding of play writing, plot construction, and character development? In a way, that’s true. But here’s the crucial point: If you present a shoddy, badly written, badly acted, poorly plotted show, the theater majors and film buffs in the audience may be able to articulate why it isn’t working. The rest of the audience – including the children – may not have the words to tell you why it isn’t working, but the effect on them as an audience will be the same – boredom, uninvolvement, maybe even eye-rolling and leaving the room for a while. At the end of the evening, they may not review the film by saying, “Wow! That was awesome!” They may instead say something like, “Yeah, it was good…” or “Yeah, it was OK… some of the animation was cool…” – with their voices trailing off, not wishing to discuss the matter further; perhaps not secure enough to voice their own misgivings.
I look at it this way: If I’m going to journey out of my nice warm home and lay down the big bucks to see a movie, I want a lot more for my trouble than “Yeah, it was OK.”
In the case of Puss in Boots, the disappointment is even keener in light of all the quality names associated with the project, and in light of how good the excerpts looked in the ads. I was really hoping that this one was going to rise above the usual low level of achievement found in so many mass-marketed entertainments.
If, in spite of my sniping, you’re still planning to see Puss in Boots, I have one bit of advice: pay the extra couple bucks to see it in 3-D. It isn’t that it’s such an eye-popping experience; it’s just that so many moments in the film have been composed specifically for the 3-D effect that you may as well go all the way in – if you’re going in at all.
Postscript — It’s completely apparent that the producers of Puss in Boots would like to see it become a multi-sequeled cash cow for years to come. Unless I hear some extraordinary reports about these sequels (if they are produced), you will not read my reviews because I won’t be in attendance.