Puss in Boots (1999) | Animated and Degraded

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WHAT… in the sam hill… did I just watch?

There are no words, my friends. There are no words. One cannot even dream of the levels of incompetence and sheer lack of artistic integrity that it takes to produce something this horrifically bad.

For those of you who are unaware, the story of “Puss in Boots” is actually an old fairy tale that has gained some minor popularity as a story to be adapted to film. And it’s been receiving a new movie adaptation at least every 15 years or so.

The story, in a nutshell, is about a young miller’s boy who was thrown out of his house by his greedy and jealous brothers after their father passed, and is befriended by his cat, who it turns out is capable of speech. On top of that, the cat is also quite cunning and intelligent, which allows the cat to come up with a plan to help the young miller boy out. The cat devises a clever plan by which the Miller’s son can attain a better social and political position in the land, by tricking the local King into believing that the boy is actually the Marquee of Carabass, and that he has been robbed of his belongings whilst traveling the country-side. This then prompts the King to give the boy a set of his own elegant garbs, and the young Miller’s son soon becomes a confidant of the King, and his daughter; along with the cat, who is now spiffed up in his titular boots and a dashing hat.

But of course we can’t forget the Ogre: a monstrous magician and brutish trickster, who wishes to marry the King’s daughter, or he will use his transmogrifying powers to change into hideous monsters and destroy the Kingdom. This then gives the cat the perfect opportunity to seal the deal with the Miller’s son and cement the kid’s position as the real Marquee of Carabas by tricking the Ogre into changing into a mouse, which allows the cat to eat the ogre: thus destroying him forever and saving the Kingdom from destruction. After which, everyone lives happily ever after.

Every major screen version that has been made of this story has basically been told the same way. And in fact, I can think of three main versions that follow that story in a general fashion with the same basic elements at play. The only version of Puss in Boots that chooses not to follow the original storyline, however, is the Dreamworks version, because they wanted to differentiate their Puss from every other by giving him a unique identity, and attaching a more spaghetti western flavor to his universe. I also will likely not be reviewing that film any time soon, due to its popularity. But you never know.

So to begin our discussion proper of what will inevitably be three (but perhaps more) films based around the main Puss in Boots tale, we have perhaps the WORST LOOKING THING IVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!

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Looking at the cover to this movie, you would have absolutely NO IDEA what you are in for. There is literally no give-away as to the horrors that lie beyond. And no one could possibly predict them.

To begin, this entire film was created digitally, but not with 3D graphics (although some do appear). No. Instead we have a very loose and early form of FLASH, where essentially, a short stack of loosely animated drawings and facial expressions were scanned into a computer, placed onto a background, and roughly animated to match the dialogue that was recorded by the voice artists (we’ll get to them later). And when I say loose and rough, I really mean it. None of the mouth shapes match the dialogue. Many of the shots where someone speaks have the mouth shapes just repeat on an endless loop. And there’s so few (actually) animated drawings here that you’d swear someone had to have done this on a time crunch, because they cut corners EVERYWHERE!

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And speaking of cutting corners, guess how much worse the animation gets?

Far worse! Because beyond the terribly limited animation drawings, the drawings themselves are sometimes left completely static, and the drawings are simply warped and wobbled in editing to make it look like they’re moving or bobbing or swaying about. All in an effort to expedite the process, and reduce the total number of drawings required to make this production to an astronomical low.

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Now in recent years, the techniques and processes by which Flash and Vector animation has been achieved has reached an all new plateau of excellence. Just look at shows like Wander Over Yonder, the Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse shorts, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or Star VS The Forces of Evil, and you’ll see what I mean. Because if you compare any of those shows to anything produced with Flash during the early 2000s, they look like Disney’s golden age by comparison. There’s far more expression, there’s far more fluidity, far more variety, and there’s far more heart and soul and passion put into every frame, because the animators actually “care.” And they aren’t treating the process as if it’s a chore. Periodically, the animation staff for these shows will even add new character poses and facial expressions to their library of assets, in order to pull off any and all specific needs of each new story. They don’t just rely totally on whatever library of body shapes they started with in the beginning.

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Now, as far as Puss in Boots (1999) goes, I can’t speak for director Phil Nibbelink himself, whom we have mentioned here before at the Warehouse. He’s the guy that worked with Simon Wells to create the vastly well-crafted American Tail: Fievel Goes West, and the absolutely abysmal We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. But for all I know, Phil may have had to cut corners and use untested digital techniques in order to fulfill a contract he had regarding this project, and had to get it done by a certain date. That could certainly have been the case. Although, if one was to look at those previous two films, and then look at Director Simon Wells’ solo effort with the heartfelt feature known as Balto, I think it’s pretty clear who was the weak link when it came to the Wells/Nibbelink team. By the way, I’m going into the rest of this review with no holds barred, so just be aware that I will not be doing Mr. Nibbelink any favors on this one. His other works, though, are a different matter.

Now even if Puss in Boots (1999) was completed due to a contract or some fast-coming, unforseen deadline, I just don’t see how it could have gotten to this point without some major mistakes having been made during pre-production. And honestly, this looks like it was designed this way on purpose. I mean, you just don’t go out of your way to make something look this strange and bizarre without wanting to from the start, do you?

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I will grant you that I think Phil Nibbelink knows how to draw. That much is clear, as I’m sure he single-handedly drew every single character drawing throughout this feature. His hand is visible and even recognizable here from both American Tail 2 and We’re Back. And if Phil had put more time and effort, perhaps even more frames into this production, it would have been a great exhibit of his talent. I would have even loved to watch this entire project had it been done as a storyboard animatic with rough animation thrown in periodically, because at least then it would have been fully traditional and understandable. But the choice to go with this strange, warped, and visually unsettling digital work-around simply ruins what could have been a serviceable production; even beyond the bad writing.

Now aside from the new low of limited animation on display here, the backgrounds are absolutely hideous. And they come in three fantastical types: horrendously interlaced jpeg artwork, horrendously interlaced jpeg photographs, and horrendously interlaced muddy 3D graphics that probably took less than three days to model. I swear, anybody just picking up Blender for the first time today would be able to model something 10 times better than this crap by dinner time.

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And these backgrounds never end. Sometimes they’re static pictures. Sometimes they’re split into separates layers to pass by each other. But in all cases, they’re made from junky, overly-compressed jpegs and gifs that are far too small to begin with. They are then blown up far too large for their inherent quality. And then they’re colorized in some of the ugliest ways I’ve ever seen, to create environments for a film that would have greatly benefited, perhaps could have even been saved, from having original background art rather than a bunch of google images made nearly unrecognizable in an effort to make them look like they were digitally painted.

The third terrible thing about this film is the music. And brother, it becomes even more obvious now just how much this film is starting to feel like an unfinished test-film rather than a completed production, because the music is almost all public domain. I’m serious, every single clichéd classical song that you’ve ever heard used in another film or tv show is here: “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Toccata en Fugue,” “The William Tell Overture,” Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” But it goes even further by also including what I assume are late 90s Royalty-Free songs, like some sort of generic surfing tune with electric guitars, I think there was a James Bond knock-off track, and they had some sort of jazzy Swing piece that played at the beginning and end of the film to book-end it. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but… You DON’T Start out your Movie about a Talking CAT wearing BOOTS in the late Middle Ages with a 1940s SWING NUMBER!

The worst, however, comes when you hear the songs. Yes… as much as it is hard to believe, this film has songs. And I would think perhaps someone working on this film would have had the decency to point out how crap these songs were when they were recording them, or when Phil was racking his brain to come up with these lame, repetitive lyrics. But nope. They went through. And poor Michael York and Judge Reinhold sound all the worse for singing them.

Yes, you read that correctly. Michael York and Judge-freaking-Reinhold are the stars of this film. They also have Vivian Schilling, and Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty rounding out the cast.

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By far the only person who doesn’t look worse for having been in this film is Michael York, because he surprisingly manages to have fun with his lines, and actually makes them sound serviceable, even when they force him to have to say things like “Cadabunga!” and “It’s time to rock and roll!”

I’m sorry, but beyond the fact that a period-piece like Puss in Boots shouldn’t have modern catch-phrases in it to begin with, you don’t ask a qualified actor like Michael York to say something as pedestrian and pseudo-cool as “It’s time to rock and roll.” You just don’t.

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Dan Haggerty, on the other hand, has no business being here, and perfectly succeeds in handing in a performance that sounds like he’s trying to be the king from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, whilst someone is also holding his nose and shoving cotton balls into his mouth. His sqeeky voice is almost completely inaudible most of the time. And the extent of his lines most often devolve into saying “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” over and over and over until you just want him to shut up. I understand Mr. Nibbelink was trying to give this character a recognizable quirky trait by having him say that over and over, but it only works if the repeated phrase is longer than two words, and actually has a pay-off: because that sort of thing is intended to be a joke with a punch-line, not just a character’s catch phrase.

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Judge Reinhold, who’s name I swear sounds like the crankiest, most anal-retentive county-court judge in America, sounds only slightly awkward as a young miller’s boy, and perhaps would have been more fitting as a somewhat older character in a Don Bluth picture. You can even see a small bit of footage from the recording sessions during the credits of the film, where Judge seems to be having quite a bit of fun performing his lines, as do all the rest of the actors. And I don’t doubt that he was. His lines were some of the least awkward. But ultimately, his performance is ruined by his lack of conviction when it comes to yelling and screaming.

For some baffling reason, it seems that whenever actors who aren’t familiar with voice acting try it out for the first time, they are extremely reluctant to put their whole diaphragm into a performance. When their character needs to yell or scream or shout, they hold it back and simply just say “Ahhhh” or “Whoooaaa” with their natural tone of voice: never putting their full force into it and giving a truly honest yell. And it pains me every time actors fail to do that in a recording booth.

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There isn’t much to say about Vivian Schilling. She doesn’t have much on her credits list worth of note, except perhaps the MST3K-known classic, Soultaker, which Vivian both wrote and starred in, as it turns out. And I’m talking about the actual movie, not the episode of MST3K. She does turn in a reasonable performance as the Princess, so I don’t think her casting was wrong at all: although Phil unfortunately never thought it necessary to give the Princess a name; which is rather shallow if you ask me. I think that character could have greatly benefited from having a real name.

There really isn’t a whole lot else to say. This movie is a complete train-wreck, from start to finish. At best guess, you’d swear you were watching the bootleg leftovers from some unfinished Sega-CD full-motion video game, what with all the overly compressed Jpeg photos and the many unexpected moments where artwork and other elements come towards the screen, making their large blocky pixels completely visible.

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Ultimately this was an experiment. An experiment likely intended to see if Phil could make a movie on the cheap with very little crew, and do it all in the computer with a very small roster of animation frames and digital assets. And unfortunately it failed miserably. His follow-up effort, also done almost entirely on his own, was his proposed magnum opus, Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, which has gotten far more attention by young internet critics and movie reviewers of late. And you may just see a review of that on here at a later date as well, as it is easily available on Netflix Instant last time I checked.

Phil, where-ever you are now, I just want you to know that although I tore this film to pieces, I don’t mean to say that you don’t have talent. Not everyone is cut out to be an animator. You clearly were. But also, not everyone is cut out to be a writer, or even a director, you clearly weren’t cut out to be a writer. Your directing skills, however, I feel have yet to be truly judged. And I think if you’ve got at least one film left in ya, then maybe you can still make something pretty darned amazing. Richard Williams is doing it, and he’s in his freaking 80s.

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If you want to brave Phil Nibbelink’s Puss in Boots film for yourself, it’s been lucky enough to be put onto Hulu for free instant streaming, along with quite a few other odd-duck animated films; some of which I may be checking out in the near future. SO many animated films, so little time.

“http://www.hulu.com/watch/302233”

I’ll catch you all back at the Warehouse.

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