‘Puss in Boots’: Fine feline fairytale with flamenco flourishes

The French might feel a little cheated. Consider that Americans love French and Spanish accents and both accents have certain romantic connotations and yet, the DreamWorks Animation character, Puss in Boots, first introduced in “Shrek 2” in 2004, is Spanish and voiced by Antonio Banderas.

DreamWorks animated feature “Puss in Boots” is a prequel to “Shrek 2” and mixes up the fairy tale of “Puss in Boots” with an Aesop’s fable, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme and spaghetti Westerns. The results are fun and witty, with a lot of Spanish musical styling.

Puss in Boots is a lovable outlaw–he didn’t commit the crime and yet until he can prove his innocence, he is on the run from bounty hunters. His childhood friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) framed him but not enlists his aid in acquiring the fabled magic beans. Humpty Dumpty is assisted by Kitty Softpaws, a declawed masked cat voiced by Salma Hayek. The threesome steal the beans from the rough and fearsome couple of outlaws, Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) who drive a coach drawn by wild boars.

This, of course, is a very strangely entangled version of fairy tales of our childhood.

The French Fairytale

“Puss in Boots” is originally a French fairy tale, written by Charles Perrault in his 1697 book “Histoires ou contes du tempes passée” (Stories or tales of the past).  The story was originally called “Le Maître Chat, ou Le Chat Botté” (Master Cat; or the Booted Cat).

From this book, also came what we know as “Sleeping Beauty” (“La Belle au bois dormant”) “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Cinderella.”  “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” (“Grimms Märchen”) wasn’t published until 1812.

In the original story of “Puss in Boots,” a miller has three sons. Each receives an inheritance. The eldest gets the mill. The middle son gets the mules or horses. The youngest son gets a cat. This peculiar feline wants boots.

The cat then hunts rabbit and instead of bringing them to his master, he takes them to the local aristocrat, claiming the gift is from his master, whom he claims is also a nobleman. When the local lord is traveling in the neighborhood, the cat convinces his master to bath in the river. Disposing of his master’s clothes, he calls for help and the lord and his daughter stop to investigate. Puss in Boots claims his master has been robbed of his clothes and money. The lord, remembering all the gifts, gives the youngest son beautiful clothes and allows him to ride in his carriage.

As the carriages travels on, the cat travels ahead, convincing the  local peasantry to tell the lord the land belongs to his master. Puss in Boots then happens upon a castle that belongs to an ogre. This ogre, unlike Shrek, can transform himself into other things. Puss in Boots cleverly convinces the ogre to become something small and insignificant like a mouse. Once the ogre does that, Puss in Boots captures and eats the ogre.

When the lord with his daughter and the youngest son arrive at the castle, Puss in Boots declares that the castle belongs to his master and the master marries the princess.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and Jack

“The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg” is an Aesop fable that ends with the owner killing the goose hoping to get more eggs, but ending up with none. As with most of Aesop’s fables, the story is very short. DreamWorks mixes this with the tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Jack and the Beanstalk dates back to the 1807 book “The History of Jack and the Bean Stalk” by Benjamin Tabart. Of course, the tale existed before then and resembles a tale told by the Vikings.

There is a giant who lives up in the clouds and Jack climbs the beanstalk to get there. Jack first steals a bag of gold, then a hen (not a goose) that laid golden eggs and lastly a magically self-playing harp.  This tale has a problem of morality: Jack is offered hospitality by the ogre’s wife and repays it by stealing from her husband and eventually causing his death. Some versions of the tale resolve this by showing the ogre to have stolen his treasures or indicating that the treasures originally belonged to Jack’s family and the ogre stole it and killed Jack’s father.

DreamWorks avoids this issue because the giant/ogre is already long dead. Our person of somewhat questionable integrity is Puss in Boots childhood friend, fellow orphan Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty

The earliest version of “Humpty Dumpty” is from 1803. Humpty dumpty was a phrase that referred to brandy boiled with ale and also slang for a clumsy person. There have been theories that Humpty Dumpty referred to a political figure (Richard III who was a humpback) or a cannon by that name that through an accident fell down the city wall and could not be raised again.

The DreamWorks movie has plenty of fun with the Western genre, from Puss in Boots entering a saloon and drinking his milk to cats dancing in insults to dueling and romancing.  It was much more interesting and wittier than the Shrek movies I’ve seen. I hope there’ll be a “Puss in Boots 2.”


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