Cat Carves His Mark on the Big Screen

The movie "Puss in Boots" debuts Oct. 28 and promises to appeal to cat lovers and "Shrek" fans alike.

Sure, we know you love cats. That’s why you’re here. But do you feel that they don’t get enough credit in this world, that the feline is more than just a smart, adorable, four-legged family member? But also … heroic? Then you’ll want to get your tails out on Oct. 28 to see the new animated film “Puss in Boots.” This spin-off from the “Shrek” series is a wonderfully funny, stand-alone movie made for general audiences, but also a cat-lover’s field day. And it’s for women who love Antonio Banderas, who plays the wily title character.

This 3-D film tells the story of how Puss meets and gathers his crew of friends.

Directed by Chris Miller (“Shrek the Third”), it will not only thrill children with the story of this Spanish cat’s derring-do, but it has some really cool kid/cat-friendly messages. Not only about doing the right thing (Puss’ friend Humpty Dumpty doesn’t and, boy, he gets his), but some contemporary issues, too. Puss’ girlfriend, for instance, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), has been de-clawed in this story, and she makes it clear that it’s hampered her life; she can’t protect herself.

Still, It’s not a preachy movie, just a banging good time.

“We didn’t really contrive to make a sequel when we were doing the Shrek movies,” Miller said. “But Puss was such a beloved character, we did start to think, ‘We really need to give him his own movie.’ He seemed to have such a history and was so intriguing, that coming up with a backstory for him was a no-brainer.”

Puss’ expressions in the film — his quivering whiskers, his “I’m sorry” doe eyes — are so spot-on for cat lovers, I had to ask the director if he was based on, anyone he knows.

“Well, I’ve had cats in the past and I do love them,” Miller said. “And they do tend to have a sort of imperious side to them. So, without basing Antonio’s character on any one cat, I just tended to think of several.

“Puss takes himself very seriously. And that’s one of the things that makes him so funny. And also, he does silly naughty stuff. Those, too, are very feline traits. So, we sort of stayed with this idea that a cat can’t resist his or her own nature. That idea pulled us through a lot of the story.”

One of the nicest surprises of the film is how Puss walks a difficult line between in-jokes for the parents (Puss claims he has catnip for his glaucoma) and thoughtful, but not preachy, moral lessons for the kids. When Humpty Dumpty rats out his “friend” for the last time, he simply must be punished — and he is (I won’t want to reveal how here, but there’s no flip-flopping).

“That was one of the trickiest things to pull off in the movie,” Miller said. “We had to find a way to show the audience that there are some bad behaviors you are not absolved from. There was a sense of sacrifice and redemption here. And kids who read fairy tales need to know that some things in life just don’t turn out happily.”

One of the great comic treats, in a film filled with them, is the vocal presence of actress Amy Sedaris. She plays the nefarious “Jill” who, along with sinister partner “Jack” (Billy Bob Thornton), is out to steal a raft of golden eggs and keep that intrepid cat out of her life any way she can.

“It was a little tricky doing my voiceover,” Sedaris said, “since you mostly do these things alone. But working off Billy Bob’s voice made it so much easier for me. He did his usual cool, low-down, Southern accent. I heard what he did and was able to bounce off it.”

Sedaris, whose voice in the film is best-described as malevolent white trash, also had an unlikely voice coach to help her with her characterization of Jill.

“The nights before I’d go in to do my taping, I’d watch the Johnny Knoxville documentary ‘The Wild and Wonderful Knights of West Virginia.’ The accents in that movie really informed my own.”

Despite her seamless reading as the creepy Jill, Sedaris says it’s remarkable she could keep the continuity going with her character.

“I must have done four or five sessions, total, in the studio. But sometimes they were months apart. So, I’d go in the next time and ask myself, ‘Now, what does she sound like again? How did I do this last time?’ I usually figured it out. But it was challenging.”

As for her feelings about cats, Sedaris is enthusiastic. For the most part.

“I really love them. And I use to have a cat. The problem for me is strictly the kitty litter. If you live in Manhattan, which I do, there’s always the problem of carrying a 10 to 15 pound box of litter up the stairs. And getting rid of it later. It’s too exhausting. So, I may get another cat someday; but now I have a rabbit. It’s just easier to manage.”

Finally, there’s the growing Latin audience. Chris Miller is really excited about his alternate versions of “Puss in Boots,” that will be released on DVD and in select theaters and aimed at this market.

“This wouldn’t be a true version of this Spanish tale if we didn’t have the film in Spanish, too,” Miller says. “Antonio has done an alternate version. And, I have to say, if you think his voice is sexy now? You should hear him do it in Castillian. It’s really beautiful.”

No word yet as to whether “Puss in Boots” will also be done in the secret feline language, we owners know all too well. But one viewing of this movie and you can be certain that your pet will probably be entranced by this flick, too. Even cats love Antonio Banderas, I hear. So why should they be any different?

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