One of the few consistently bright spots in the last few Shrek movies was the swashbuckling Puss in Boots. This eponymous film tells the tale of how he became the most feared cat in the land.
Would it surprise you learn that Puss in Boots was an orphan? Well, he was – but our story begins with Puss [voiced by Antonio Banderas] on the run from the law and seeking momentary refreshment in a bar. Though greeted with laughter, he soon puts the bar’s patrons on notice that he is not to be trifled with – and soon learns of the exploits of the villainous Jack [Billy Bob Thornton] and Jill [Amy Sedaris], who have allegedly come into possession of some beans of the magical variety.
That leads us into a flashback of Puss as an outcast in an orphanage run by the maternal Imelda [Constance Marie], where he befriends another outcast, a glib egg named Humpty Alexander Dumpty [Zach Galafianakis]. Sadly, Puss was betrayed by Humpty – which has led to his being hunted by the law.
Naturally, our lovable rogue figures that if he can get the beans and bring the goose that lays the golden eggs to San Ricardo, perhaps it will make up for his past transgression. Unfortunately, Puss runs into one obstacle after another – first, super footpad [sorry]Kitty Softpaws [Salma Hayek] and then, his old friend, the Egg.
What makes Puss in Boots superior to all but the first film in the Shrek series is that – for all its homages to other films, and unique take on as many fairytale characters as time allows, it is a story that is crafted to showcase character as much as action. And everything has consequences – there’s a reason why Kitty Softpaws is so good at picking pockets, for example. The three main characters, Puss, Kitty and Humpty are all more complex than initially supposed, with Humpty, for example, being so Machiavellian that we really can’t tell when he’s being sincere.
Because the characters are so engaging and the plot is so well developed – and the actions sequences are full on amazing [especially a couple of dancing sequences with Puss and Kitty] – references to James Bond and Sergio Leone [to name but two] – feel like well earned bonuses. The film’s noir influences [Dutch angles, unusual lighting] add a layer of grit and edge to proceedings, as well – and a sequence in which San Ricardo faces destruction from an oddly Godzilla-ish creature that normally wouldn’t evoke the giant lizard is both scary and hilarious.
Another plus is the writers really know cat behavior and plumb it for some classic comic moments. At the least expected moments, Puss or Kitty will do something completely feline and utterly undermine their anthropomorfization – just to keep us aware that our heroes are cats!
The 3D in Puss in Boots is well worth the premium ticket. When Puss, Kitty and Humpty plant the magic beans, the resulting sequence is made engrossing because we can see what the characters see – it’s a long way down! When they move among the clouds and into the garden in those clouds , we are with them in the air and pushing through the foliage. In short, director Chris Miller uses 3D as a storytelling device and not just something to throw stuff at the audience.
Alert audience members may notice that several of the film’s producers – the easily identifiable Guillermo Del Toro [undoubtedly a major factor in the film’s success] play the city’s commandant, for example.
Puss in Boots is even better than the trailers promise.
Final Grade: A-