Apart from his choice of footwear, the Puss of Puss in Boots 3D seems to have no connection with his precursor of fairytale. Yet though the two felines' deeds may differ, their stories share one feature: both narratives seek to endow humanity's favourite pet with mythic status. This is a mission of long standing.
Puss In Boots 3D
Production year: 2011
Cert (UK): U
Runtime: 90 mins
Directors: Chris Miller
Cast: Amy Sedaris, Antonio Banderas, Billy Bob Thornton, Salma Hayek, Walt Dohrn, Zach Galifianakis
The ancient Egyptians held cats to be sacred.Bast, a goddess with the head of a cat, was entrusted with the protection of lower Egypt and provided with one of the country's most splendid temples. Several ancient religions exalted cats as all-knowing guides for humans. The Norse god Freyja even chose them to draw her chariot. In Malaysia, people believed cats would guide their souls to paradise.
The fairytale that first brought us Puss in Boots also presented its hero as a benefactor of mankind. In the definitive version, written by retired civil servant Charles Perrault in 1695, Puss secures wealth, power and the hand of a princess for his low-born master. His DreamWorks counterpart saves a whole city from being devastated by a monstrous goose.
Unfortunately, the beast currently ripping your sofa to shreds is unlikely to harbour comparable ambitions. If the dog is a man's best friend – stout-hearted, obedient and faithful, then the cat is something else.
If he's leaving your soft furnishings alone just now, maybe it's because he's depositing something unwelcome on your pillow, or spraying in some corner that you'll never be able to reach. Alternatively, she may be out demolishing your neighbour's garden or exterminating the local wildlife. Asurvey by the Mammal Society found the nation's cats accounting for around 57m mammals, 27m birds and 5m reptiles and amphibians over a mere five-month period. And unlike other predators, cats enjoy torturing their victims before they finally dispatch them.
You can't blame them for their halitosis, caterwauling or propensity to vomit on the carpet. Doubtless they don't mean to transmit toxoplasmosisto pregnant women. Yet they do often give the impression that they're going out of their way to mistreat their human hosts.
Nonetheless, people have been inviting cats into their lives for more than 9,000 years. In Britain today, over 10m of the things infest about five million homes. Unlike other domesticated animals, they didn't inveigle themselves into our households by being useful. Why then do so many people put up with them?
Of British cat owners asked their reasons in 2008, 58% cited "companionship" or "love". Presumably they must have meant their love for their pet, rather than its for them, given the typical feline disposition. Cats do indeed seem able to inspire almost limitless devotion, however unrequited this may be. Owners have been known to put out seven different bowls of food each day to give Kitty a bit of choice, to get up at 3am to cook fish because that's when Kitty wants it, or to leave the heating on all night in case Kitty gets cold even though this makes them too hot to sleep themselves.
Still, in spite of having to do so much in return for so little, these infatuates convince themselves that the relationship is working. A Swiss study in 2003 found that cats are as good as human partners at cheering up the morose. As Kipling noted, the cat walks by himself; yet he holds humanity in his thrall. How does he do it?
The answer may be presumed to lie in the bottomless cunning of felis catus. No other creature is so manipulative. A cat can cajole his owner into picking up a fallen toy simply by staring at it and tossing glances in her direction. Yet clever though he is, he isn't easy to train: you see, there's nothing in it for him.
A University of Sussex study found that to impose their will on their owners, cats deploy a particular kind of purr. It's different from the regular version, and incorporates a note with the same frequency as a baby's cry. The resulting sound is very hard for human beings to ignore.
Perrault's fairytale acknowledged its hero's guile, even as it sought to applaud him. Though Puss advances his master's interests, he does this through trickery and deceit. In the end, his apparent altruism turns out to be a ruse to secure a life of leisure for himself.
DreamWorks, on the other hand, gives us the cat of our delusions. The 3D Puss is surrounded by cheats prone to greed and betrayal. He, however, luxuriates in courage, loyalty, honesty and compassion. Only one of his characteristics chimes with those of our sharp-clawed household delinquent. It's his prodigious love of himself.