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‘Puss in Boots’ almost purr-fect

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Dreamworks film for kids, adults alike

I am unapologetic in my love for animated movies. Sure, they’re aimed at children. So what? I’m just a kid at heart. Besides, companies like Pixar and Dreamworks have long been crafting multilayered animated extravaganzas that work on one level for the kiddies and a much different, more sophisticated level for us grown-ups.

If there was any doubt that “Puss in Boots,” the latest offering from Dreamworks, would have that same dual sensibility, it was put to rest right from the opening moments, as we watch the title character dress himself and tiptoe away from a snoozing kitty and her pillow bed. We adults certainly register the naughty implications, but stuff like that barely registers with the youngsters.

So it goes with “Puss in Boots.” It’s the first starring vehicle for Puss (Antonio Banderas, “Black Gold”), who up until now has been a supporting character in the “Shrek” franchise. Call it “Puss in Boots: Origins.”

Puss is living a hard life as an outlaw, seeking one last big score before getting out of the game. He hears tell that some magic beans have been discovered – beans that Puss has been seeking since he was a mere kitten. However, when he finds his way to the lodgings of Jack (Billy Bob Thornton, “Faster”) and Jill (Amy Sedaris, “The Best and the Brightest”), an ugly couple who have gotten their huge paws on three of these magic beans.

However, when Puss makes his move, there’s a mysterious second cat also trying to snag the beans. This results in a confrontation, a chase and ultimately a revelation as the mystery cat lures him to an encounter with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifinakis, “The Hangover Part II”), who just happens to have been Puss’s best friend at the orphanage in which they both grew up. The two dreamed of finding the magic beans, but jealousy and deception wound up tearing them apart and alienating them for years.

Puss and Humpty, along with mystery cat Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, “Grown Ups”), set out with a plan to steal the magic beans, climb the beanstalk and capture the golden goose. As you might imagine, however, it isn’t quite that easy.

It was stunning just how funny this movie was. Not only was there plenty for the adults out there – I personally saw homages to both Richard Rodriguez’s “Desperado” (which starred both Banderas and Hayek) and the westerns of Sergio Leone – but even the kid stuff was sophisticated enough to warrant grown-up laughs as well.

This isn’t the sort of fairy tale mash-up we’ve come to expect from “Shrek” and its sequels. This film, while it does use a couple of stories as jumping-off points, is more or less its own story. Call it “inspired by” the original tales. And by cutting the ties from the fairy tale realm, there’s a chance for the story to develop in its own way. It results in a story that we’ve never heard populated by some characters we recognize and some that we don’t.

When I watched this movie, I laughed. A lot. The combination of the performances and the script resulted in an experience jam-packed with humor. Throw in the usual visual excellence provided by Dreamworks and you’ve got another outstanding children’s offering. If you’ve got kids, take them to see “Puss in Boots.” If you don’t, just go yourself. Either way, you’re going to enjoy it.

4 out of 5

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