Puss in Boots was the surprise hit character — the standout sidekick — of the second Shrek movie, and went on to tickle us in Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After. Sleek, foolish, vain and blessed with the all-butter voice of Antonio Banderas, he was the roving ginger tom whom audiences wished to take home and make a pet of.
His easy charm and roguish asides have earned the well-heeled moggy what every sidekick wants but few deserve: his own ‘origin story’. Puss in Boots is a full-length, computer-animated feature film which describes the making of the mouser.
Several fairy tales are put through the scriptwriters’ mouli and served up where once upon a time and long ago a story might have been written. Puss’s best friend and blood/albumen brother is Humpty Dumpty; Humpty spends his free time searching for three magic beans which he believes will grow into a beanstalk; the stalk (he hopes) will carry him and his furry chum to a magic castle in the clouds, and the castle will contain a goose whose golden eggs Humpty and Puss will steal and live off happily for ever after — rather in the way, one imagines, that the producers of this film must hope to live off each of their characters. In fact, any princess, dwarf, ogre or witch not already under contract can expect to be franchised and put to work in Forever After II, to be followed by Forever Infinity parts I, II and III and then Forever All Over Again, the Broadway musical.
But where was I? Oh, yes: the cat and the egg. They fall out; Puss saves an old lady’s life and is given a pair of boots; Humpty robs a bank and goes to jail. Years pass (or perhaps they are months that feel like years). Puss and Humpty reunite and team up with legendary cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (de-clawed by her owners for ‘playing a little too rough with the hamster’, which made me laugh) to go after the beans, which have surfaced in the hands of a married pair of monstrous cannibal outlaws, Jack and Jill. The rest of the game — sorry, film — goes on very much like this. More and more things happen, all quite similar but each one a little more frantic, and then they stop and it’s over.
The point of this film is not the stupidly complicated story, but how it looks in 3D. The plot positions the characters and sets them off to chase each other up and down the beanstalk, through the goose’s garden, twice over the rooftops and once along a windy mountain pass. It is during these sequences that the audience remembers the point of the film: the visual experience. When we go dashing about it is terrific fun and the entertainment is enhanced, there is no question, by the 3D effect — I know because I felt rollercoaster sick for a good many of the 90 minutes. But since it might cost £35 (not including popcorn, parking, Coke, Minstrels or a second parent) to take two children to see this film the special effects had better be not just sick-making but also very, very special — especially if you believe, as I do, that they come at the expense of everything else.
The problem with the film is not what you’re paying for — the visuals — but what it lacks: animation. By that I mean not the genre or the technical process but the bringing to life of character; the drawing not of person but of personality. These characters might have been conceived by humans and they might have human voices but there is nothing characterful or vivacious about them. Puss’s fur may be extra-fluffy in 3D but it has no substance; he has been somehow de-animated. The other characters are flat, sketchy and one-dimensional — the stick figure on the emergency exit sign showed more signs of life than Humpty Dumpty. Whose idea was it, for heaven’s sake, to try to make an egg look two-faced? He’s about as menacing as a bubble bath. The description ‘computer-animated’ has never seemed more accurate: the cats do not look like cats or like people but like a hybrid of ‘cat’ and ‘person’ conceived by a piece of software; the humans have either beards or breasts but that is where their humanness ends; the horse and the bull are nothing but galloping cars; the mother goose is a feathered Godzilla.
Puss is not the first sidekick to discover that the occasional witty comment doth not a hero make. Poor chap, it’s not his fault — after all, just because I like Mercutio doesn’t mean I want him to have his own ‘origin story’. Puss was big for his boots in Shrek but here, shoved centre stage, he is all miaow and no trousers. He may boast of being a ladies’ man (which he does, all too often) but you don’t need 3D glasses to see that this puss has lost his balls.