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The popular feline bandit of the “Shrek” series gets his own feature film, one that is less of a fractured fairy tale and more of a swashbuckler.  Antonio Banderas returns as the voice of Puss in Boots, the cat with the heart of a lion — and the eyes of a cute little kitty.

This is a prequel, set in a fanciful Spanish countryside, showing us Puss’ life as an orphan, his early friendship with Humpty Dumpty, the betrayal that led him to become an outlaw, and his efforts to find redemption.

“What can I say?  I was a bad kitty,” he tells us as he bids farewell to a pretty feline whose name he can’t quite remember.  He is “a fugitive from the law, searching for a way to clear my name.”  He walks into a bar and silences the snickering caballeros, telling them, “You don’t want to make the cat angry.”  He is looking for a way to score but he has his own set of values: no stealing from churches or orphans.

Magic beans, on the other hand, are another story, especially if they have already been stolen.  And it turns out that the magic beans have special significance to Puss and to his old friend.

Puss makes a new friend, too, a hooded fellow thief who wants the same beans.  At first, in a charmingly designed cat hide-out, they compete against each other with an hilarious dance-off.  But then the thief removes the hood and is revealed to be the notorious Softpaw, a brilliant and beautiful female thief (voice of Banderas’ “Desperado” co-star Salma Heyek).  And they are joined by Humpty, though their history makes it difficult for Puss to trust him.

The beans are magic, and the beanstalk takes them to a cloud-land where they find the goose that lays golden eggs.  Or, as Softpaw puts it, “It’s a gold pooper; we’re taking it.”  Will this be a chance for Puss to right past wrongs?  Or will it just make him an even badder kitty?

Less visually striking, less funny, and less heart-warming than the Shrek movies and with completely unnecessary 3D, it is a step down for the series.  The kitty hide-out and dance-off are well handled and there are some funny moments, but the death of a major character is too jarring for younger children.  Puss is a better supporting player than a star.

Parents should know that this film has mild non-explicit jokes about a one night stand, whether a couple should have a baby, and marijuana, some potty humor, and swashbuckling adventure action with characters in peril.  One character sacrifices himself to save others and is killed (off-screen).

 

Family discussion: Why did Puss and Humpty become friends?  Why did they have different ideas about fairness and loyalty?  What can people do to make up for past mistakes?

 

If you like this, try: the Shrek movies, Disney Animation Collection 1: Mickey & Beanstalk, and the original story of Puss in Boots

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