Puss in Boots is a rare spinoff that actually feels deserved: the Shrek films started to feel stale by the third installment, but throughout the sequels, that irrepressibly arrogant (and impossibly cute) Don Juan cat, perfectly voiced by Antonio Banderas, always provided some bright moments. With Puss at the forefront of his own movie – minus the ogre – this is plenty fun.
Set some time before Puss appears in Shrek 2, Puss in Boots – other than the titular character – has no story or character connection to the previous Shrek films (the playful fairy tale references, however, are here in full force). And, as you might expect, this has even less connection to Charles Perrault’s original story.
Puss in Boots begins with the outlaw Puss learning about some magic beans in the possession of a certain Jack and Jill (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).
Apparently, Puss has been searching his whole life for these beans; on his way to snatching them, however, he finds that others are after them, too: the cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and a figure from Puss’ past – the egg, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).
Humpty, it turns out, was Puss’ lone friend back in his kitty days (and yes – there’s a kitty “cute eyes” scene here) at the orphanage in San Ricardo; they dreamed of finding magic beans and travelling up a beanstalk to find the goose that lays golden eggs. A fateful event split them apart, but now they need to work together to pry the beans away from Jack and Jill.
Puss in Boots doesn’t feel like much – and, at 80-minutes minus credits, it barely registers as a feature – but it’s short and sweet and never wears out its welcome.
The jokes are hit and miss, with an abundance of cat-themed puns and pop culture references that feel more out of place here than in the Shrek films, but I was surprised to find myself frequently chuckling. Particularly amusing: the Ohhh Cat.
The voice cast deserves a lot of credit. Banderas and Hayek are perfectly cast, but Galifianakis (voicing a character in a feature for the first time) is able to create a surprisingly rich character that is entirely disconnected from the actor’s live-action persona.
It’s Humpty – not Puss – that adds any dramatic weight to the film. In contrast, Thornton and Sedaris don’t seem to have much to work with – most of the Jack and Jill gags tend to fall flat.
While Puss in Boots doesn’t rate alongside 2011’s best animated films – namely, Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and Gore Verbinski’s Rango – it’s sweet and fun in a familiar, friendly kind of way, and it picks up some of the slack left by Pixar’s Cars 2 (though, like that film, this one is heavy on the action and may not be suitable for the youngest of viewers).
Stick around during the credits for an extra scene (which, unfortunately, counteracts a key dramatic point during the climax).