It’s hard to believe the Shrek franchise is just now spouting off spin-off films. In fact it’s hard to fathom the Shrek films would ever last long enough to create spin-offs but they have with the latest film Puss in Boots. What sets Puss in Boots away from its originator is how different it is from the Shrek films, more in the vein of this year’s Rango. At times a bit bland, and not nearly as creative with the quips as the first Shrek, Puss in Boots is far better than expected.
The film tells the tale of Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas), world famous thief and “lover” of female…cats. When he’s propositioned by old enemy Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) to steal magic beans and the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, Puss sees a way to clear his name in his hometown. Instead the plan goes awry leaving Puss with a town out to get him, an angry goose, and Jack and Jill on his tail.
Where Puss in Boots soars is where it most closely resembles Shrek, in the fairy tale skewering. Nowhere near as funny as the first Shrek, this film does a great job making fun of various fairy tales, mainly Jack and Jill. In this version Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) are a bizarre husband/wife (or brother/sister, the argument’s there for either) who spend the majority of their time quibbling over having kids. Their backwater mannerisms are hilarious and just crazy enough that you envisioned that’s how they’ve always looked like. Puss himself gets a strong back-story, envisioned as the lone gunslinger with various names like Diablo Gato and Chupacabra (one of the funnier side quips not everyone noticed). The film boasts many similarities to Rango in the spaghetti Western feel of the setting and story, but it also infuses bits of Banderas’ past work like Desperado. The animation is gorgeous with Puss’ hair being worthy of awards.
The voice cast also works well. Banderas glides in the voice work of Puss, again hearkening back to Desperado with his smooth one-liners and grace in playing a lone bandito. Salma Hayek doesn’t get much as femme fatale Kitty Soft-Paws but she’s got a few chuckle worthy lines. Thornton and Sedaris are perfect as Jack and Jill and a few of the side characters who have single lines are just great. A certain cat that just says “Oooh” during Puss and Kitty’s dance fight made me laugh so hard, showing how the delivery of a single line can work so well.
The film isn’t perfect; in fact it’s nestled right in between Shrek sequels for me. The villain voiced by Galifianakis just came off as annoying and far too much like a rehash of Rumplestiltskin from Shrek Forever After. Galifianakis voiced the character whiny like Rumple and at times it didn’t even sound like the actor making it apparent that anyone could have voiced him. Some of the action beats go on far too long and the sudden disappearance of Jack and Jill makes the third act seem a bit dragged out. The movie was good, far better than it should have been, but nothing special which I found a bit sad. Also, for a film about a cat wearing boots there’s an emphasis on sexual innuendo that I found surprising. It’s mentioned in the first five minutes that Puss is a “famous lover” which I found a tad creepy considering he’s a cat. It might be a bit hard to explain to kids so hopefully they won’t notice.
Puss in Boots is by no means a bad movie, just a forgettable one. At this point I’m surprised any ounce of goodness can be mined from this franchise but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Some more fairy tale elements and Jack and Jill would have been great, but mostly I was able to sit back and enjoy the tale of a little kitty wearing bit boots.