May contain spoilers!
So, as I've said at least a couple of times before, we are in a new golden age of animation. "Cartoons," they were called, but that word carries a bit of cheapness about it. Not that the old cartoons were not good -- Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Mickey, Goofy, Daffy, Popeye -- indeed, they were some of the best entertainment around. They were funny, they were relevant, and they could appeal to all age groups. Then somewhere along the line, cartoons did get cheap, and they got shallow. Even the top names like Bugs and Popeye became painful to watch, they were so bad.
Along came computers and new artists, and the art has been reborn. Sadly, we will not see the old guys again, at least not they way they were, but that's okay -- nobody lives forever, not even cartoon characters. But the new group of artists has really begun hitting their stride. The new "animated features" are displaying extraordinary accomplishments in technology, art and storytelling.
Puss in Boots is the latest offering from Dreamworks Animation, the studio that has turned out the Shrek movies, Kung Fu Panda, Mega Mind, and How To Train Your Dragon, so they know a thing or two about the genre. This movie is actually a prequel to the Shrek movies. It is the backstory of Puss in Boots, the loveable kitty that befriends Shrek. Antonio Banderas is the voice of Puss and seems to thoroughly enjoy his work. In this story, we find out how Puss got to be the roguish outlaw.
Orphaned as a kitten, he is raised in an orphanage run by a kindly woman whom he comes to regard as his mother. He is befriended by another of the orphans, Humpty Dumpty, and together they grow up as brothers, scheming and dreaming. Puss's good nature, cuteness and selflessness lead him to be an honored and respected citizen, but soon Humpty, an odd body preoccupied with his own selfish plans, tricks his trusting friend into a nefarious plot that backfires and ends with Puss's reputation ruined and their friendship shattered. Puss is forced into a life of exile as a wanted criminal, and he begins a quest for redemption. In this quest, he will eventually reunite with his old friend, unwillingly at first, but eventually, Puss's fidelity to honor and his love for his brother overcome all the odds. Puss saves his town from destruction, his reputation is restored (even if his legal troubles remain), and Humpty is turned from the Dark Side.
There is some mind-bogglingly good animation in this film. It is almost distracting to watch the intricate motion of cat fur or to get lost looking at the minute detail of Humpty's shell-like skin. And the evolution of the technology is most evident in the portrayal of the humans. It is getting to the point where the human characters look and move in extremely human ways -- skin tones and textures are nearly perfect, and now the subtle facial motions associated with emotion are being realistically portrayed. It's getting to the point where it is not readily apparent that these animated humans aren't real. I'm guessing that we are going to see the state of the art in human animation later this year when Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin hits the screen.
However, technology aside, the thing that I am most pleased with in this new wave of animation is that once again, "cartoons" are for all ages. The writers have been able to recapture the ability to tell a story that successfully incorporates slapstick and more sophisticated humor, stories that make kids laugh out loud and parents giggle knowingly. I remember Red Skelton saying that modern comics go for cheap laughs, that they think that being crude is funny. For a lot of humor in movies that's true, but the new animated movies are finding a way to funny without being vulgar.
Puss in Boots is a wonderful film -- good art, good story, lots and lots of fun. If you get a chance, this one is a good one to spend your movie money on.
What he said, most definitely. This is a light-hearted animation; while as an adult I appreciated the artwork and the subtle laughs, it is primarily directed at little kids. Someone who is cynical and angry about life might not like it, or someone who hates cats.
The animals speak like humans, and speak with humans, but the creators of these characters also have not forgotten to give the cats cat-like attributes as well -- and moments when cats are cats provided some of my biggest laughs.
I'll gladly see this movie again and again, and each time be thrilled that Dreamworks was willing to showcase some of the music of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, guitarists extraordinaires. Indeed, I'm not sure anyone human could dance as well to their music as Puss and Kitty did.