Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots on Blu-ray

By Jim Bray

Is this movie about a cat a tonic, or does watching it make you catatonic?

Well, to be fair, it's probably closer to the first than the second, but Puss in Boots is hardly a masterpiece of modern moviemaking (other than the state-of-the-art animation). That said, it's head and shoulders above many of the other CGI animated films that are inflicted on unsuspecting audiences – the Ice Age films spring to mind immediately, though they're by no means alone.

Puss in Boots starts off with a good base: it's set in the Shrek universe and, despite the spotty nature of those titles, any of them are still worth a view. And that's about where Puss in Boots fits in: it's definitely worth a view and is a good Blu-ray for showing off your system (with an audio caveat I'll outline later), but it's still a pretty minor entry when you consider Pixar.

Puss in Boots stars the voice of Antonio Banderas, reprising his role from the Shrek flicks as the cute little swashbuckling pussycat, except that here it's kind of an origin story, where we find out where he came from and when (and how) he began buckling his swash.

It's kind of a cross between fairy tale and spaghetti western, with a healthy dose of ham-handed and overbearing politically correct warmth and fuzziness thrown in because that seems to be the way Hollywood addresses relationship movies these days - telling us how we should be living our lives.

Well, fuzziness might be appropriate in a movie about a cat….

Anyway, when the film opens, Puss is already a famous bandit, his furry little face on Wanted! Posters. He's also on a mission – to posses the magic beans from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fable – which he learns are in the possession of Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), a couple of bad-butts who have apparently not only gone up the hill, but decided once there to lead a life of crime. Before he can get them, however, he's accosted by a superhero-like cat and forced into battle. He defeats the cat, thanks to his abilities with a guitar, only to discover it's a she-cat who goes by the name of Kitty Soft Paws (voiced by Salma Hayek).

Their fight scene is pretty cool – a dance number, in fact, but one that's done very well. Puss learns that Kitty is in league with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), who it turns out has a long history with Puss as well. And that's where we go into a fairly long flashback in which we watch Puss grow up in an orphanage where Humpty was his only friend. They were inseparable until they had a falling out over whether they should pursue a life of crime – Puss (despite our knowing that he's a wanted criminal) padded along the straight and narrow, while the rotund Humpty pursued a life of crime.

It's during this flashback that we're assaulted by a lot of the feel good warmth and fuzziness – lectured to, basically – and it rears its ugly head later as well. Fortunately, there's more to like about Puss in Boots.

Naturally, they get the magic beans and climb the beanstalk, but there's no giant there like there was in the story; instead, there's a "mother goose" who pursues them back to ground level when they grab the goose that lays the golden eggs.

And then all heck breaks out, kind of.

It's an okay story, as mentioned it's worth at least one viewing and you may enjoy it enough for repeated viewings, which will probably let you see – as the Shrek movies did – things you may have missed the first time.

As a Blu-ray, it's very good, indeed, especially the video. The 1080p picture quality is fantastic, the sort of BD you can use to demo your equipment when your friends come over. It was the 2D version we got, so can't comment on the 3D aspects of that release, but that's just as well.  Detail is fabulous, from the hairs of the cats' fur, to textures, and the like. Black levels are superb and there's enough of that great "depth" you can get from a good HD disc that you probably aren't missing a lot by not having 3D.

The audio, presented in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, was disappointing initially. Movies like this usually have exquisite sound, but "PIB" seemed muted compared to what we expected in our high end home theater. So I put the disc in a second time, but cranked it a few positions above our usual default – and then it came to life beautifully.  At the proper volume, you'll be treated to excellent dynamics and imaging, and be put right into the action thanks to excellent channel separation. Great low frequency effects, too.

Extras include "Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos," a short companion film that picks up where the movie leaves off as Puss tries to tame three "kittens of hench" so he can get to their boss, The Whisperer. It's okay.

"Purr-fect Pairing: The Voices Behind the Legend" is a pretty interesting look at the voice actors, mostly focusing on Antonio Banderas (which does seem appropriate), though there's some footage of Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris and Zach Galifianakis. There are also three deleted scenes,  and a 12 minutes featurette "Kitten to Cat" that focuses on the evolution of the Puss in Boots character.

"Glitter Box Dance Off!" is an interesting look at the choreography of Puss and Kitty's dance fight, while "Klepto Kitty" is a news feature about a cat who steals things, but which has nothing to do with the movie other than it focuses on cats. "Kitty Keyboard" gives you a first person view of cats' paws, as if they're yours, playing the piano. You can watch them play "Three Blind Mice," "Humpty Dumpty," "Jack and Jill" and "Little Boy Blue." It gets tedious quickly, though it may give views a refreshing "paws."

"Fairytale Pop-Up Book" is an interactive feature with which you can flip through a pop-up book of characters, while "Kitty Strikes Again" lets you play a kind of "Where's Waldo" game that also gets stale quickly.  

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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