The first thermodynamic law of sidekicks tells us that sidekicks make for popular appurtenances in both dramas and comedies because they offer a counterpoint -- often offbeat and comic -- to the hero. It also states that a little bit of a sidekick goes a long way, particularly in the antic mode.
It's not surprising that someone at DreamWorks had the bright idea of turning Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas, into the hero of his own film. He was one of those happy surprises in Shrek 2, who returned to decreasing comic effect in the next two Shrek films.
The reason he grew less amusing was that his screen time increased. And he was definitely a less-is-more character -- not one whose one-joke premise could be expanded upon for an entire film.
So Puss in Boots 3D is about what you'd expect -- a two-dimensional comedy shown with technology to make you believe you're seeing something you're not. And one of the things you're not seeing -- or, rather, hearing -- is witty dialogue.
What you're left with is a plot-heavy film that's short on actual amusement or even an engaging story. OK, so it's better than Cars 2, but that's not saying much. There's lots of light -- and very little heat. And you don't need 3D glasses to figure that out.
Puss is cast here as a wandering adventurer who gets word that an outlaw couple, Jack and Jill, has come into possession of the legendary magic beans. These are the same beans that sprout a beanstalk that will take the owner to the cloud castle of the giant and the goose that lays the golden eggs.
The beans have haunted Puss' life and so he goes in search of Jack and Jill (amusingly voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris). But when he finds them, he also finds that he has competition: a certain light-fingered feline named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). And she's in cahoots with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), once Puss' best friend with whom he had a bitter split years earlier.
It's no surprise that Humpty is a bad egg. What is surprising is how little actual humor emerges from the dialogue, as Humpty, Kitty and Puss steal the beans and head for the clouds. At times, there's so much exposition going on -- in real time or flashback - that smaller children will grow restless because there aren't gags to distract them.
The script, by a gaggle of writers, has a sassy attitude but few workable punchlines. The best humor is in the slapstick imagination of the extended action sequences, which push this computer-animated film into Looney Tunes territory for adventurous outrageousness. That's particularly true of the Humpty Dumpty character, whose visualization is funny enough to earn laughs just from the silliness of his appearance and actions.
But the joke of Puss himself -- a housecat-sized hero who somehow dominates full-sized humans both mentally and physically - wears thin quickly. He's at his best during his first encounter with Kitty: a dance fight in a saloon early on that has some of the film's best bits. But he's not an intrinsically funny character, like Humpty.
Puss in Boots is a great-looking dud, a movie that will be too sophisticated for the youngest viewers and only exciting or funny enough for an elementary-school audience. So it's the worst of both worlds for parents: Not only do they have to watch this disappointing comedy with their kids -- they have to shell out 3D admission to do so.
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