I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I stepped into the theater to watch “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” but I was pleasantly surprised.
The computer-animated sequel featuring the break-out character from the Shrek franchise was sumptuously animated, cute and quite funny. Nothing hysterical, mind you, but the lavishly produced movie by director Joel Crawford kept me chuckling throughout its 1 hour and 42-minute running time.
The script by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow took a rather mundane plot — hero and friends seek a magical treasure and learn a lesson along the way — but pepper it with enough laughs and clever takes on fairy-tale characters to keep me mindlessly entertained for nearly two hours.
Admittedly, I didn’t see the attraction of the Don Juan-ish character voiced by Antonio Banderas at first. I thought it was an odd character to spin out of the Shrek franchise in 2011.
I don’t believe I’ve ever saw the original movie, but thankfully that didn’t hold me back from enjoying this sequel, which turns on the fact that Puss has used up eight of his nine lives, and he is being stalked by Death, who has taken the form of a big black, red-eyed wolf armed with two sickle blades, just waiting to take a whack at our erstwhile hero.
To escape Death, Puss hides out with an elderly cat lady and makes friends with an odd Chihuahua, who is masquerading as a cat, that he names Perrito. When The Goldilocks and the Three Bears Gang attacks Puss, he finds out they are seeking a “wishing star” for their mob boss Big Jack Horner, who wants to use it trap all magic under his control.
Puss wants the star to regain his eight forfeited lives, so he steals Goldilocks’ magic map and teams with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to chase after it in the enchanted forrest.
The adventure is fairly by-the-numbers, but the clever and gorgeous animation along with non-stop laughs from the dialogue and voice performances kept the adventure rolling.
Banderas, Hayek, and Harvey Guillen, who voices the daffy but unassuming Perrito, have great chemistry together and that is what keeps the mad-cap adventure afloat.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” isn’t a classic, but it was a mindless fun time at the movies, which most of us can appreciate at this time of year.
(PG) 1 hr. 42 min.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
Outside of the birth of Jesus recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the most enduring Christmas story has to be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in serial format in 1843.
The timeless story of Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, and the four ghosts that haunt him on Christmas Eve has been fodder for movies since the very beginning of film. Thomas Edison, yes, the creator of the light bulb, first adapted the novella to celluloid in 1910, and since then scores of directors have followed suit.
From animated versions featuring Mr. Magoo, Bugs Bunny, and the Flintstones and sit-com adaptations on “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” and “Sanford & Son” just to name a few to the many bigger-budget versions featuring the talents of stars as varied as Bill Murray, George C. Scott, Jim Carrey, Patrick Stewart and the Muppets, Dickens’ heart-warming tale of redemption continues to resonate with audiences nearly 180 years after the tale’s initial publication.
Everyone has his or her own personal favorite “A Christmas Carol” clone. Many critics point to the 1951 British adaptation, starring Alastair Sim as the mean old miser, as the best of the bunch. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. It’s a fine film.
However, my personal favorite is the 1938 MGM version. It stars Reginald Owen as Scrooge, Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit, Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim and Barry MacKay as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.
To me it’s a merrier version of the story. Oh, Scrooge is just as ornery as ever, but there seems to be true Christmas joy and warmth in the other performances, which creates a stark contrast with Scrooge that I don’t find in other adaptations.
MacKay’s performance as Fred is particularly jolly. There’s a nice scene featuring him and Lynne Carver as Fred’s fiancée Bess outside of church where they enjoy a “slide” on the ice that is quite fun.
Another delightful scene features Lockhart as the good-hearted Bob Cratchit heading home from work. When some teens pelt him with snowballs, instead of getting upset, he joins in the fun. When he attempts to show the boys how to make the perfect snowball, he lofts the icy sphere so far that it knocks off the top hat of his old boss Scrooge.
The 1938 version was my introduction to Scrooge and Dickens when I was in elementary school in the mid 1970s. I remember watching it one Saturday afternoon on TV during the Christmas season before going to see a Godzilla movie with a good friend.
We were both so excited about the approaching holiday as well as getting to see Godzilla romp and stomp on the big screen.
However, as I think back I don’t remember what either of us got for Christmas that year. I don’t even remember which Godzilla movie we saw. It was possibly the one with the Smog Monster?
But, I do remember that adaptation of Dickens’ tale making a strong impression that sticks with me today.
I’d suggest taking the opportunity to see Sim’s version of “A Christmas Carol,” which plays on FX at 1:30 p.m. Saturday or checking out Owen as the old miser in MGM’s version, which is on TCM Demand, if not this year then during some future Christmas season. Both are excellent. Maybe one or the other will become a sentimental favorite of your own?