PUSS IN BOOTS 3D (U): On General Release Friday 9th December
Dreamworks Animation’s cash cow has always been Shrek. Released way back in 2001, its three sequels have unfortunately been subject to the law of diminishing returns (although the fourth outing was better than the third). Dreamworks know the jig is up and have wisely decided to change tack looking to Shrek’s most popular supporting cast for inspiration.
So, Puss In Boots, a fan favourite who made his debut in Shrek 2 now has his own movie, a prequel which takes us back his roots as an orphan in the small village of San Ricardo where he grew up with his best friend Humpty Dumpty.
After some initial difficulty fitting in the two of them become lovable rogues, using Puss’s skill and Humpty’s brains to commit minor misdemeanours all over town. But when Puss gets his taste of fame when he saves the Commandante’s mother’s life, he renounces his life of crime only for an embittered Humpty to turn his back on his.
Years later, Puss finds himself enamoured by the master thief Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), a swordswoman who is almost his equal. Chasing her, he eventually finds that she is in cahoots with Humpty who has hatched (sorry) a plan to steal magic beans from Jack and Jill (re-imagined as beefy outlaws) so he can steal the fabled golden goose.
Antonio Banderas is perfectly suited to play Puss (indeed, the reason he was cast was as a non-so-subtle nod to Zorro who he’d already played). He’s fun, breezy and has the right amount of smouldering Hispanic charm which fits perfectly with the character design and zippy animation – fast, frenetic action sequences and rapid-fire one-liners. His foil Salma Hayek is also an inspired choice (as they’ve worked together many times in the real-world) and while Kitty Softpaws is pretty generic as characters go, there’s enough chemistry between the two stars to keep it bouncing along.
As good as Banderas and Hayek are, it’s Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty who really stands out. It’s initially a voice that’s hard to place, which in a character-based animation is a good thing. There’s a distressing tendency for studios to front-load their movies with a celebrity voice cast, while forgetting that what really matters is story and character. Thankfully, Humpty is a well-rounded (sorry again) villain, entirely believable as both a jealous and bitter friend but also as a criminal mastermind.
Locations are well designed and feature the sun-bleached stone walls of Hispanic towns, the seedy depths of back alley clubs (the (G)Litter Box) and the soaring heights of a castle in the clouds. It makes judicious use of its 3D, which thankfully never tries to poke you in the eye but is arguably unnecessary. Hiring Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela for the music is an inspired choice; a toe-tapping dance-off between Kitty and Puss in a dingy nightclub is a particular highlight.
As expected from the makers of Shrek the jokes come think and fast and are suitable for both adults and children: children won’t notice when jokes go over their heads; adults will get a laugh at the cheeky reference. So there are recurring jokes about catnip (“it’s for my glaucoma”) and Puss’s constant craving for “Good leche” which give it a feistiness that it might not have had otherwise
There are a few missteps with the story – Puss doesn’t actually seem to be essential for Humpty’s plan of nabbing the golden goose in the first place and the Giant’s castle sequence is disappointingly short. It also rattles along at such a rate that some characters are left behind – Jack and Jill are notably given short-shrift as dumb muscle when they give hints that there’s a better story about them to be told.
Nevertheless, Puss In Boots is a perfectly good spin-off which retains the spirit of the character’s Shrek-based incarnations. If this is the beginning of a new franchise, then it’s certainly most welcome.