Puss in Boots stars Antonio Banderas as the titular character in this spin-off of the popular but diminishing Shrek series. Without even so much as a cameo appearance by Shrek or Donkey in sight, Puss in Boots stands alone as its own story (no knowledge of the Shrek movies is required at all) and has a spaghetti-western style and pseudo-Spanish flair that tries to keep things fresh. The film falters however, coming across as yet another workmanlike exercise by DreamWorks Animation.
Generally speaking, the infantile humour that the Shrek series devolved into is not present here (no more of those groan-inducing ogre and fart jokes!); the writing is improved and the laughs are smarter. That said, the laughs are also somewhat sparse. It’s just not very funny. Indeed, most of the film’s gags make fun of the various things that cats do, some of which is endearing but a lot of it is still pretty lame: ‘You made the cat angry. You do not want to make the cat angry!’
Gone also are the musical numbers set to current pop atrocities. In their place we get a dance fight set to the music of Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who previously contributed the sound of their acoustic guitars to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I’m a big fan of the duo and was pleasantly surprised to recognise such hits as ‘Hanuman’ work their way into the film. Director Chris Miller (co-director of Shrek the Third) seems to have great taste in music. I say ‘seems’ because Lady Gaga’s ‘Americano’ also rears its inauspicious head, though not for long so I guess I’m thankful for that.
This time Banderas’ swashbuckling cat is after the mysterious magic beans of legend – it’s the classic Jack and the Beanstalk story, complete with goose and golden eggs. We learn that Puss in Boots grew up alongside brainy Humpty ‘Alexander’ Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) in an orphanage, and the pair were the best of friends until Humpty betrayed Puss.
Years later the pair are reunited and Humpty seems set on helping his once friend clear his name – Puss was wrongly branded as an outlaw due to Humpty’s betrayal. Also along for the ride is sexy Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), a feline thief who helps Puss and Humpty to steal the beans from brutish Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris). Forgiveness is the name of the game and comes into focus as the film’s central theme. It’s a nice change of pace from the ‘don’t read a book by its cover’ message that every Shrek movie had.
The twists and turns are all pretty obvious but they’re handled well and with a degree of maturity. The same is true for the character development, which felt closer to something I’d expect to see in some of Pixar’s animated films. But for every step in the right direction, there’s always something going the other way, whether it’s the lack of laughs despite the smarter screenplay or even something as small as a little bit of Lady Gaga to counterbalance Rodrigo y Gabriela. It’s almost as if the filmmakers were afraid to tip the scale too far in either direction.
As a result Puss in Boots comes across as being far too conservative – it’s all too safe. The film ends up feeling more like a product and less like a genuine work of imagination; it never smacks of creative wit. It moves, it’s cute, it does its thing and it does it well but when push comes to shove I came out of Puss in Boots feeling rather ambivalent about the entire experience.
I saw the movie in 3D and, as with most DreamWorks Animated films, the 3D was actually pretty good.