Ahhhh, the lowly spin-off. The bastard child of a franchise running itself into the ground and the greed of a studio who still wants every last penny that franchise can produce. Even when a spin-off is good, it is derided and looked down upon simply because of what it is. And why not? For the most part, the spin-off is less than the original franchise that spawned it, and that franchise had already crashed directly into the ground.
Such is the case with Puss in Boots. A film which takes a character from the insanely successful, but on its last legs Shrek films, and gives him his own film. But can Puss’s swashbuckling, Western, comedy, parody ways overcome the fact that it is blatantly an attempt to milk more money from a film series that should have stopped after the second film? Can it possibly live up to the original Shrek‘s charm and cleverness?
Puss in Boots
Director: Chris Miller
Release Date: October 28, 2011
I believe Puss in Boots to be a prequel to the Shrek films, but if that is true, there are some major character inconsistencies between the films. I could tell that many of the children watching were severely upset by this horrendous lapse in continuity, and you should be just as perturbed (which is to say, not at all). The story follows Puss (Antonio Banderas) as he attempts to steal the magic beans from Jack and Jill — who are large, burly and married here — along with his cohorts Humpty Dumpty (Zack Galifianakas) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Humpty and Puss were both orphans at the same orphanage as children, but Humpty turned evil as Puss became good.
The two are reunited when the opportunity arises to steal the beans and plant them so they can steal the goose that lays the golden eggs from the giant forces Puss to team up with Humpty and Kitty. It’s pretty obvious to anyone over the age of five that Humpty making nice isn’t all on the up-and-up, but if you’re searching for a complicated plot, you probably should have walked into a different film this weekend.
The movie is a spaghetti Western mixed with fairytale touches, a bit more action and more cat puns than you can shake a stick at. It definitely wants to be as smart as the first Shrek, especially when it comes to its take on the Western. However, Puss in Boots is no Rango. Where Rango was smart and clever to the point of homage, Puss settles for stupidly charming. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially since Puss in Boots is so blatantly geared to the younger crowd set. While the film never reaches the tongue-in-cheek take on genre norms that the original Shrek did, it’s a far cry from the inanity of the third and fourth Shrek films. It’s just smart enough to pass any adult’s enjoyment test and beyond funny enough to keep the kid’s entertained.
And as a children’s film, Puss in Boots really does shine. Aside from the easy win-over with the adorable cat factor, the folks at Dreamworks really know how to keep a kid captivated. There’s tons of dumb humor, horrible cat puns and entertaining sequences to keep even the shortest attention span laughing and interested. I was in fact surprised at how well the film held together as a whole despite leaping from Western to fairytale at the drop of a hat. There’s definitely jokes in there for adults too, but it’s pretty obvious that this one is for the kids.
It’s most obvious in the overwhelming amount of cat jokes, puns and sight gags throughout the film. A few are downright funny, others are less so, and by the end of the film you kind of want to shout, “I know! I know! They’re cats! We get it!” Still, the rest of the humor actually keeps its paces and the unfolding relationships between Puss and Kitty and Puss and Humpty, while predictable, are executed well enough to be enjoyable. They’re also interrupted by some pretty impressive action sequences enough that even if you aren’t down with furry love you can enjoy the film.
I wouldn’t say that the animation stands out in any major way, and seeing it in 3D is pretty worthless. While Puss and Kitty’s fur does look especially good after seeing visual 3D masterpieces like How To Train Your Dragon, it’s hard to get impressed by animation that seems pretty standard these days. If animation studios really want to make their films stand out visually, they’re going to have to start doing a whole lot more with their direction and cinematography soon because outright gorgeous animation is becoming the new norm.
What Puss in Boots offers is some great, family friendly entertainment that isn’t the breathe of fresh air that the original Shrek was, but is definitely a step in the right direction for a franchise that wasn’t doing so well. Banderas’s Puss might be a one joke cat pony, but somehow he and the rest of the filmmakers managed to stretch that joke out into a full movie. It’s childish, silly and downright dumb at times, but it really doesn’t have to be anything more.