For those of you who, like myself, quickly grew tired of the Shrek movies and all of their associated ills, the idea of a spinoff movie always sounded a bit iffy. Yet Puss in Boots doesn’t come off nearly as obnoxious as one would expect. Here, DreamWorks Animation indeed puts one of its established characters through the Shrek motions of reinventing and putting a new twist on age-old fairy tales. Somehow though, the origin story of this swashbuckling tabby cat largely abandons the vast majority of those annoying pop-culture allusions that are so ubiquitous within its parent franchise. Yes, it sneaks in a few gems here and there (in particular, a well-placed Fight Club joke), but Puss is not only very much a standalone tale but also downright endearing and rather seductive too in a PG-rated sort of way. Mostly, Puss mostly relies upon its own charm and a healthy sense of adventure to get the job done.
And holy frijoles, that cat is charming.
Look, I’m not even a cat person (they stroll through their own poop, people), yet I adore this very bad kitty. The wondrous thing about Puss in Boots is that, while it utilizes the fairy-tale modernization for a backbone, the movie carries much more depth and heart along with a few genuinely multidimensional characters including the lead kitty himself. Hell, I even shed a few tears along the way and, more importantly, didn’t hate myself for it either. Ultimately, this is an origin story where we first encounter an impossibly cute kitten with an adorable mew and hypnotizing green eyes that he uses to great advantage. The young feline struggles to make his way though life in an orphanage, where he develops a great affection for his adoptive human mother and hooks up with Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), an egg who dreams too big and bestows the name of Puss upon the impressionable young feline. When Puss finally speaks, it’s through the voice of Antonio Banderas, who pours on the Latino lover vibes with a swaggering self-assurance. It’s a role that absolutely no other voice actor to date could pull off with such bravado yet also manage the understated moments that the part requires.
Puss takes place far away from Shrek’s Land of Far, Far Away. Instead, our hero journeys through a vaguely Mediterranean landscape complete with jungles and surrounding desert areas as well as up into the clouds above. We learn how Puss he got his boots, which are a symbol of bravery and honor given to him for being the town hero, and how he soon reaches mythic status. Sadly, we also learn of a day where Puss loses everything when Humpty, now a career criminal, betrays the diablo gato, and the two childhood friends have a major falling out. Puss spends the remainder of his days as a fugitive from the law looking to clear his name while a reward sits on his head. Soon (and the movie works so quickly through all of the action that it’s amazing), Puss finds himself on a a rip-roaring quest in search of the legendary magic beans, which are currently in the possession of Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), who themselves are a very different type of outlaw. Puss also finds a kindred spirit in a cat burglar named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Naturally, Humpty enters the picture again, but little gets in the way of Puss earning back his honor. At least, not for long.
At the same time, the character building at hand doesn’t get in the way of a rollicking adventure story that keeps one guessing about its characters intentions and doesn’t dumb down the material. The score (by Henry Jackman) will get inside your head and stay there until you go to sleep at night, yet you won’t mind at all. If I had one complaint about the whole affair, it would be that Humpty’s face looks astoundingly like Matthew Broderick in egg form. You know, sorta creepy, but livable. Stlll, it’s worth mentioning again that, every so often, a film strikes every right note with its voice casting; and Puss in Boots does just that. The picture itself is also quite visually striking with bold colors and great attention to detail. The 2-D alone looks pretty damn 3-D, so I honestly don’t know why anyone would bother shelling out more cash for a dimmer screen and less vibrancy overall, but that goes without saying these days.
Puss in Boots successfully blends genres and traverses themes involving betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, and love. At times, Puss is cast as a hard-boiled protagonist and, at others, a fearsome, swashbuckling adventurer in manner of Zorro. He is equally fetching while sword fighting or daintily licking from a glass of milk; able to save lives on pure instinct yet easily distracted from the task at hand by a laser light; and lithe enough to hold his own during several chase sequences but capable of taking it slow while charming a lady kitty or engaging in a flamenco dance fight. All the while, the rogue lover and dashing swordsman wears his jaunty hat and well-heeled leather boots while navigating through Sergio Leone-esque moments and split-screen gambits involving the tragedy of spilt milk. Ultimately, it’s one hell of a fun movie, and it won’t make you stupider for watching it, which pretty much makes it a perfect kid’s movie if there ever was one and not bad for adults either.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.