Oh Puss in Boots! You are in an interesting position, aren’t you? You’re a spin-off of the Shrek franchise, which in my eye (for better or for worse) represents Dreamworks Animation as a whole (kind of like how Toy Story is the embodiment of Pixar.) But after 3 progressively worse sequels, and multiple shorts and holiday specials (Shrek the Halls? ugh…) the franchise is looking a little stale at this point. The only logical next step was to have a character spin off from the main franchise in hopes that it might bring a breath of fresh air to the company’s flagship fairy tale franchise. Enter Antonio Banderas reprising his role as the ever charming Puss in Boots, now in his own feature film.
It’s no surprise to say that after this Shrek overload, many people, including myself, have gotten a serious case of franchise fatigue. So does this adorable swashbuckler have enough substance to pull us back into their fairy tale littered world?
Probably the first thing to mention is that the movie isn’t a laugh out loud riot, and it clearly doesn’t mean to be. It’s not to say that it isn’t funny; the character of Puss is still his awesome mix of suave machismo meet cutesy adorableness, but that’s mostly at the beginning of the movie, and a little bit at the end. Most of the time this is a straight up action/adventure flick. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make the film feel slightly bi-polar, not really knowing if it wants to be funny or serious. A great example is my personal favorite segment of the movie, where we see Puss’ childhood growing up with Humpty Dumpty (played with earnest feeling by Zach Galifianakis.) Everything about the segment is great, and it shows some really dramatic moments, but before and after the flashback we have Puss’ new partner for the movie, Kitty Softpaws (a “meh” performance by Salma Hayek,) undermining the story in an attempt to get a small laugh in before and after the extended ”serious” part of the movie. The character’s disinterest (which I’m sure is supposed to be played as a joke) before and after the segment just doesn’t fit with the tone they’re going for in this part of the movie, and as a result it kind of ruins that nice dramatic moment we just had.
For the new characters, it does kind of feel like this film got the “left over” fairy tale characters that the Shrek franchise hasn’t already used, but they definitely made the most of it. The real issue here is the story, which is fun, but I can’t help but nitpick a lot about it. In the film Puss teams up with his ex-friend Humpty and new partner Kitty in a quest to get the magic beans from the “Jack and the Beanstalk” tale, which leads them to a castle in sky where they find a goose that lays golden eggs. There are plenty of good things in this tale, such as Puss’ quest to reclaim his honour. The fight and action scenes are a blast to watch. The art design for the giant’s castle in the sky is breathtaking. But for all this eye candy, the subsense of the story is lacking. Without revealing too much, there’s a twist in the third act that doesn’t make all that much sense, followed by a quick twist back for the final battle. Again, it’s like this movie wants to do something serious, but they’re afraid to stray too far from their formula.
What it all boils down to is Puss in Boots is a good movie. But with a little more polishing and bolder story decisions could have been a great movie. I always thought Puss would make for a good spin-off character as he never was all that essential to the plot in Shrek movies to begin with (let’s face it, even though he had some of the biggest laughs in the Shrek franchise, he could have been easily taken out of the movies and the plot would have been the same.) Sadly, this movie is pulled between wanting to do a comedy or an adventure instead of finding a happy harmony of the two. And even the jokes get a little tiring after a while, reusing gags over and over again (Kitty stealing from Puss without Puss realizing was funny the first time…and only the first time…) And be prepared for A LOT of cat jokes and puns, of which I kind of got tired of near the end of this 90 minute feature. However, if you are a cat person, be prepared to fall completely in love with every gag and joke in this movie.
After growing more and more tired of the Shrek franchise, I was pleased that this movie didn’t continue the downward trend in quality of those movies. However, after viewing Puss in Boots I still can’t shake the feeling that there were a lot of missed opportunities here. There’s lots of little things holding it back, almost as if it was afraid to try something new. And they really shouldn’t be! New is what they need! The bombardment of Shrek sequels have gotten so old, stale and crunchy. I’d love something new! And I almost got it with this spin-off, but at the end of the day we still end up with a very “Dreamworksy” animated movie here. One that has tired jokes, and that always has to end with a pop song and a dance montage. Always.