You may only think of Puss in Boots as a bad-cat outlaw and a blow-with-the-wind feline fancy. But the orange swashbuckler with the purring Latin accent is so much more than that. Others may run in fear from thugs and ruffians. But that he will not do. Others may steal from the church and orphanages. But that he will not do either. Others may share tearful tales of their painful childhoods. But that …
It all started long ago when Puss was just a lonely tabby taken in by an orphanage. Becoming fast friends with a young fellow outcast named Humpty, he made his way through, sharing his newfound brother’s dreams of someday finding magic beans and scaling a beanstalk to a golden egg kingdom in the clouds.
It was then that our fine and furry rebel heroically saved an endangered innocent and earned his treasured boots as a symbol of bravery and honor. But it all quickly went in the kitty litter with a dastardly act of betrayal: A jealous choice that drove Puss and Humpty far apart and caused the cat to be wrongly accused of being a criminal.
The suave survivor—with his sword and his boots—has learned to live with his lot. To roam the land, a maverick on the move.
But when he runs into a vivacious señorita/thief named Kitty Softpaws, he wonders if things could be different. She dances like the wind. She can handle a sword like a samurai. She is every bit his equal. And she even shares his desire to find and plant the legendary beans.
There is only one problem. She is already in cahoots with a decidedly rotten egg: one Humpty Alexander Dumpty!
Early on, the rebellious Puss’ actions lets us know that, in spite of his reputation, he’s actually quite a good guy. And during his flashback story we learn that most of his sense of right and wrong came from his adopted “mama” Imelda.
When young Puss and Humpty are dragged home by the town’s Comandante for stealing beans, for instance, Imelda corrects them with, “You are better than this. I believe in you with all my heart. Please do not let me down.” These words hit home with Puss, and he vows to make her proud and never steal again. That’s when he’s tricked into breaking his word and is labeled a criminal. But later Puss goes to great lengths to right the wrong that was perpetrated against his town. And he apologizes to his mama for any of his perceived misdeeds.
Puss also has a natural heroic streak that we see surface on several occasions. For example, when he first comes to the orphanage as just a tiny kitten, he stands up for the picked on Humpty. When an elderly woman is accidentally put in danger, Puss flies into action and saves her life from a rampaging bull. And later, when the clawless Kitty Softpaws loses her grip and falls into a swirling river, without hesitation he jumps in to retrieve her. He also bravely grasps two ropes that hold Humpty and a giant gosling suspended over a deadly precipice. He vows not to let either fall.
Puss’ heroic and upright attitude begins rubbing off on others. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” he tells Humpty. That prompts the egg to make a self-sacrificial choice. Even the very cautious Kitty Softpaws admits that Puss has helped her see that there are more important things (and people) than wealth. The bad guy Jack states his desire to leave his life of crime and settle down to raise a family.
Puss in Boots says that Diablo Gato used to be one of his aliases. The glowing magic beans hold some otherworldly power, and when they’re planted a great storm swirls down out of the sky. But there’s probably no need to mention again the giant goose and her gosling who live in the clouds since we’re already immersed in a story about a talking, boots-wearing cat and his sidekick egg.
Puss makes a point of referencing his reputation as a lover. And at the film’s beginning the camera pans across discarded wine glasses (with a bit of milk residue in them), a fluffy cat asleep on a pillow and Puss buckling his sword belt, moving toward a nearby window while softly bidding her farewell. He can’t even remember her name, but he does remember the one he himself has been called: Frisky Two Times.
He gets into a competitive sparring match with a masked rival … and from the moment it’s revealed that his opponent is a female (Kitty) there is an ongoing (light) sexual give and take between the two. An example: A purring Kitty runs her tail around his neck in a softly flirtatious manner. In other scenes, Puss and Kitty dance and seductively lean in toward each other. (Their only kiss happens behind the cover of Puss’ upheld hat.)
This story’s versions of Jack and Jill certainly work against character: The hulking husband and wife are a couple of (hick) thugs who are ready to threaten or pound anyone who gets in their way. They blast a gunshot hole in the floor while trying to take out Puss, and they beat at him and his fellows with everything from clubs to swords to wagon-mounted cannons. No one is ever seriously hurt, but Jack does hit Puss in the head, knocking him unconscious. And Jack and Jill wind up in body casts before the bedlam is banished.
Puss, for his part, isn’t shy about using his sword, slashing at the thugs’ whiskers and clothes, sticking the point under the chins of bad guys, and parrying knives and other objects thrust in his direction. Townspeople throw their swords at Puss and Kitty, who avoid the projectiles with their natural grace as they lodge into the sides of buildings and rooftops.
[Spoiler Warning] Humpty ends up (of course!) falling to his death at a climactic moment. The egg’s outer shell shatters, leaving a solid (inner) golden egg behind. “I always knew you were good inside,” Puss says. Why? Because Humpty’s deliberate sacrifice saves the whole town. (We later see his new golden self running and playing in the Cloud Kingdom.) Before that happens, though, the giant goose terrorizes the tiny hamlet, stomping on buildings, breaking down walls, etc.
A half-slurred gasp of “oh my god!” Puss exclaims, “Holy frijoles.”
When Puss is being put in jail, the authorities go through his belongings and find a bottle of catnip in his boot. Puss guiltily squeaks out, “It is for my glaucoma.” Bad guys drink tankards of ale and glasses of hard alcohol in a pub. Kitty and Puss pop the cork of a giant bottle of champagne and grab hold of it to hurtle across a deep chasm. Milk stands in for spirits when it comes to the cats, and we see kegs of the stuff in a scene reminiscent of the Feds busting up a Chicago speakeasy during Prohibition.
A thug tells Puss the story of a giant’s land and the goose that lays the golden eggs. And he illustrates his tale by taking off his shirt and revealing tattoos of beans, a beanstalk and a goose on various parts of his body. Another thug tells him, “Show him the golden eggs”—and just before the tattooed guy can pull down his pants, Puss cries out, “No! You have shown me enough.” Similarly, when Humpty, Puss and Kitty are preparing to go to the cloud kingdom, Humpty strips off his clothes to put on a golden leotard. We don’t see him do it, but Puss and Kitty cringe at his eggy nakedness as Kitty reports, “You’re not wearing underwear.” Twice, Puss flicks out his claws and a thug’s pants fall, revealing boxers.
Humpty runs into a heavy golden egg, hitting himself in the crotch. During a “dance fight” with Kitty, the cats perform dance moves called “litter box” and “butt scrape,” imitating recognizable cat, um, actions. Kitty calls the golden goose a “gold pooper.”
Kitty insists that they steal said goose. And it fits her character: She’s constantly stealing Puss’ things. Puss also steals a ring off of a sleeping man’s hand. And Humpty steals bags of gold from a bank. We also see Puss steal.
If you’re like me, when you hear the movie title Puss in Boots, you automatically think of Shrek. And if you’re even more like me, that association causes a small, involuntary cringe.
Thankfully, you don’t need even a single bit of ogre love to enjoy this new swashbuckling adventure. Puss’ prequel stands on its own and is actually pretty clever and colorful. And its kitty litter, while still present, is fresher than those other films’. The screenwriters do push the tantalizing tabby’s “lover’s lover” shtick a bit. His early morning sneak away from a fluffy feline paramour isn’t really necessary. The large and gruff Jack and Jill tend to skew a little dark and scary. And a catnip/marijuana joke is never needed in a film aimed at such young kittens.
But Puss in Boots also gives families a character-driven, intelligently conceived story that practically dares us all to earn our own pair of boots for our own acts of heroism and efforts to do the right thing.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.