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A pussy cat that wears a hat and boots? What harm can there be in an animated tale about such a creature and the fairy tale world he lives in? When the makers of Shrek put their spin on it, plenty. Though this prequel to the popular Shrek movies has less bathroom crudities than some movies aimed at kids, it makes up for that restraint by filling Puss in Boots with “suggestive” elements that would be more honestly described as sexual innuendo. Combined with a morally deceptive message, this PG material means that your kiddies will be safer staying away from the kitties of Puss in Boots.
Fans of the Shrek saga are probably familiar with the assassin-turned-friend, Puss in Boots, but how did he become the frisky feline he is in the Shrek story? The mysteries are revealed in this story, which includes a look into Puss in Boots’ youth and the pivotal moment when his life as an outlaw began.
Perhaps if this film began with Puss in Boots’ kittenhood, when he was left on the doorstep of an orphanage, we might have more sympathy for him. But it’s hard to have compassion or admiration for the rogue we meet in the movie’s opening moments, who proudly admits that he’s an outlaw, reciting his many names of ill-repute. These names, including The Ginger Killer and The Furry Lover, draw a picture of a character who is the kind of “hero” that most recent children’s films like to feature—the hero who isn’t one at all.
This antihero’s favorite title for himself seems to be The Furry Lover. It’s a name he tells “women” (female cats) when he’s trying to seduce them and a reputation he strives to live up to. It’s this character element that inspires (or allows) most of the risqué content in Puss in Boots. The filmmakers waste no time in pouncing on their opportunity and, in the first scene, indicate that Puss has just slept overnight with a female cat.
Such wild anthropomorphism may seem like a stretch for adults, but it’s no problem for an imaginative child to see Puss and his friends as representatives of human behaviors, including the negative ones. As with most animated films that feature talking animals, viewers of Puss in Boots are intended and expected to view the characters as human in the sense of relating to them emotionally and practically.
The filmmakers of Puss in Boots are clearly caught up in the anthropomorphizing themselves, as they seem bent on inserting as much “human” sexuality in the film as they can get away with in so-called kid friendly fare. They even go to the extent of having Puss call his feline girlfriend a “woman,” which only furthers the harmful impact that this lust-based relationship could have on young viewers.
Puss in Boots’ love interest, Kitty Softpaws, is the now-clichéd action heroine—sultry and flirtatious when she wants to charm the “men” around her, but able to best the boys at their own physically aggressive game. In this case, that game is swordplay and thievery. Kitty is an expert at both, and can even dance in seductive tango style better than Puss (a sight we’re privy to in more than one dance sequence). It may not be obvious, but Kitty is another billboard advertising that women need to sell their sexuality while being as rough, callous, and tough as outlaw men in order to be considered attractive.
More subtle than this negative message, however, is the hidden thematic problem that provides the unstable foundation for this tale. Puss in Boots is a cat of contradictions, for while he usually seems to enjoy his outlaw life, he also professes a desire to clear his name, since he isn’t actually guilty of the crime that originally landed his furry likeness on wanted posters. This goal is supposedly part of the reason that he decides, against his better judgment, to join in cahoots with Kitty and a former friend who once betrayed Puss.
Strangely, the act that Puss thinks will redeem him is committing another crime—stealing golden eggs and the Golden Goose from the Giants’ Castle. Actually, no less than two thefts are required for this big “score,” as the magic beans needed to access the castle are initially in the possession of two other criminals named Jack and Jill.
It’s in situations like this when living with a self-constructed morality and ethical standard, as Puss does, comes in handy. Puss is able to self-righteously announce that he doesn’t steal from churches and orphans, but he doesn’t twitch a tail at robbing those he thinks deserve it or can take the hit. For Puss, then, stealing isn’t wrong, but rather a useful means of getting what one wants that should be applied with care and discrimination.
Unfortunately, Puss in Boots tries very hard to be sure viewers don’t detect the destructive premise at the heart of such a self-centered lifestyle. Most kids will go along for the ride, rooting for the lovable outlaw when he nobly declares that he will steal with his comrades for his adoptive mother and home town. Hardly the stark right and wrong, black and white themes that characterized the fairy tales of old.
In the hands of the Puss in Boots filmmakers, those fairy tales and rhymes are radically and lethally transformed under the guise of comedic effect. The innocent and naïve Jack and Jill, for example, are here turned into a repulsive, villainous married couple who are at once stupid and ruthlessly violent. Even Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk is portrayed as an almost lecherous individual who takes a strange pleasure from watching Puss clean himself in what would be a compromising, exposed position, if he were a human.
Along with the latter-mentioned moment, which is unusually lewd and suggestive for a children’s film, Puss in Boots includes some of the typical body humor of the genre. The inevitable crotch injury is present and accounted for, as well as several scenes in which characters have their pants dropped, embarrassingly exposing underwear or, in the case of Puss, a furry tail.
The dangerous reality is that Puss in Boots wields enough production polish and creative skill to make all this negative content palatable to most audiences. With superb animation and excellent acting through the voice-overs, this film can easily charm one into missing or overlooking the evils and ruinous ideas that it’s actually teaching. The script, while not remarkably clever, still has enough wit to keep kids and their parents entertained as they watch the exciting and colorful images. It’s even constructed as a self-contained story that doesn’t at all require a viewer to have seen the Shrek films.
Yet while the kids are laughing at the sometimes appropriate jokes and rooting for the “hero,” they’ll be absorbing an annihilatory view of morality. The one correct thing that Puss does say comes near the end of the film, when he tells his friend that “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” Too bad that Puss never seems to figure out what the “right thing” really is. His best guess is an abstract sense of honor and a belief in a natural, inner goodness that can be rallied in oneself through exertion of will. He does readily sacrifice himself for the lives and safety of others, but, again, he is picky about who he thinks should be spared from violence and attributes his heroism in such cases to his inner personal merit.
One could argue that much of Puss in Boots’ most inappropriate material will go over the heads of younger children. Hopefully, that will be true for the majority. But, as kids do, they’ll still be watching, listening, and hearing—learning about the world from this movie and its persuasively entertaining, fun story. Someday soon they’re bound to put together the pieces they picked up from this tale, completing a puzzle that may then be the record of the early beginnings for their moral confusion and instability.
Not only that, but they’ll never be able to view the family cat the same way again. I’ll take my pussies without boots, please.
Check out these movies instead:
Ratatouille (Pixar Animation, 2007)
The Great Mouse Detective (Disney, 1986)
Up (Pixar, 2009)