Review: 'Puss in Boots' is Entertaining for Children and Adults Alike
by Jeremy Kirk
October 28, 2011
Spin-offs rarely work. Sure, you get the occasional side character that's actually strong enough to carry their own movie or TV show. Television show spin-offs have a much stronger history of success, but the film world is a harsh one when it comes to them. Enter DreamWorks Animation's Shrek series and that lovable cat with his lovable hat, lovable boots, and lovable sword. He's even got a lovable, Spanish accent courtesy of Antonio Banderas. His name is Puss in Boots, and he's finally got his own movie. He's also thumbing his nose at history—with his claws—because this is that rarity where the spin-off is by and large a success.
Comical and adventurous but never with a sense of pandering to what's sure to be a kid-heavy crowd, Puss in Boots brings the same level of wit and originality we got with the first Shrek movie, and none of the hackneyed or blase baggage we got from any of the later sequels.
Playing like a feline version of Zorro, Puss is considered an outlaw when we first meet up with him (again). The events in this film take place before he meets Shrek and Donkey, but screenwriters Tom Wheeler, David Steinberg, and Jon Zack never abuse that fact for its obvious and easy benefits. The Puss in this story is a swashbuckler, a world-renowned adventurer who learns of outlaws at the local Jack and Jill tavern who have come into possession of magic beans. Aided in his quest to snatch these beans is Kitty Softpaws, the female equivalent—and possible superior in thieving skills—to Puss, voiced by Salma Hayek, and Humpty Dumpty, a mastermind of sorts who looks like not surprisingly like a shaved bare Zach Galifianakis - he provides Humpty's voice.
That's just the set-up, and one that director Chris Miller and the screenwriters to an impeccable job of establishing. The characters are fleshed out, or as best as they can be using computer animation and voice work, but they're never reduced to unwarranted exposition that could have children in the audience falling asleep. When Puss tells Kitty his backstory, the events of his childhood and the wavy relationship he's had with Humpty since his days in an orphanage, it's done so with comedy in mind. Kitty doesn't even want to sit and listen to this story, but the prideful Puss will have none of it. The backstory plays out, taking up a good chunk of the film's run time, but entertaining as it is, that's not a mark against it, and when we go back to the present we see Kitty fast asleep. It's a joke we see coming, but that doesn't make it any less comical.
Much of that is courtesy of Miller's sense of timing, the way he reveals things at just the right time and how the characters react. Granted, the jokes in Puss in Boots are balanced between what works for children and what works for adults. Like Shrek, the more adult humor keeps parents interested in what's going on on screen, but it's shaded just enough to keep some parents from having to explain things to their children. Like why catnip might be used to counteract glaucoma. But Miller delivers enough flashy imagery, bright colors, and arresting characters to hold everyone's attention.
Banderas, Hayek, and Galifianakis deserve much of the credit, as well, each providing their respective character with enough energy to bleed into the animated characters' faces. Particularly Banderas. His voice is distinct enough to always know who that is behind the character's voice, but it never infringes. This marriage between Puss as a physical character and Banderas' charismatic and spicy voice creates what is sure to be a long-remembered icon of animated film, one who truly deserves his own movie.
And one who truly deserves a movie as entertaining as Puss in Boots is. While not as quirky as that other animated, western comedy with fantastical elements this year, Rango, Puss in Boots is fluffier and more accessible, but never any less entertaining. If DreamWorks Animation continues to follow the Puss in Boots route, if the Shrek days are behind us and the days of the feline adventurer are ahead of us, there are sure to be many fruitful adventures for this character to get into. If told with the same ounce of the delight and festivity given to Puss in Boots, those are sure to be stories worthy of enjoying.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10