It is pretty safe to say that the character of Puss in Boots is the only thing that saves the Shrek films from being a complete waste of time. Introduced in the second installment, Puss is legitimately hilarious, fully-realized and breathes life into what is otherwise a wasteland of dated pop-culture references. Turns out, though, that a little bit of Puss goes a long way -- and while PUSS IN BOOTS is considerably more entertaining than the series from which it has been spun-off, it still falls flat.
Granted, I may have had some unrealistic expectations floating around in my head. The film is, after all, very much for kids, as were the SHREK films. (Comparatively, I will always maintain that most Pixar films are actually themed towards adults, with a kiddie sheen.) But dammit, on some level, I was hoping for an edgy, more “adult” Puss in Boots story that fully embodies the reputation that has been established -- namely, that he’s a scoundrel and a womanizer. I realize that this was a silly pipe dream, and while there are certainly hints of adult themes and humor sprinkled throughout (for example, one of Puss’ aliases is “Frisky Two-Times”), there is only so much you can do with a PG-rated kiddie film. Doesn’t mean I have to like it!
It also doesn’t help that the plot is both lackluster and kind of a mess. Taking place sometime before SHREK 2 (I guess?), it tells the story of how Puss achieved notoriety as a outlaw, lothario and legend. Along the way he reunites with his childhood friend-turned-rival-turned-criminal mastermind, Humpty Dumpty, and a female feline thief named Kitty Softpaws who proves to be a match for Puss in more ways than one. Then there’s something about stealing magic beans from Jack & Jill (portrayed here as hulking Bonnie & Clyde-type outlaws) to find a goose that lays golden eggs... you know, the usual twisted-fairy tale stuff. But the story just feels slapped together, convoluted and never manages to get off the ground. Even the action sequences, which could have been filled with swashbuckling fun, are unmemorable.
Fortunately there are some pluses. Voice work is very solid. Puss remains one of Antonio Banderas’ most memorable roles, since he plays it as a pitch-perfect send-up of his own on-screen persona (well, except for when he joins forces with Almodóvar and achieves a whole other level of excellence). Can’t go wrong with Salma Hayek as Banderas’ love interest -- in a twisted way, Puss & Kitty bring to mind the awesomeness (and hotness) of DESPERADO. Zach Galifianakis does a fine job as the disturbed (and disturbing) Humpty Dumpty, and Billy Bob Thornton & Amy Sedaris chew the animated scenery as Jack & Jill. There are some funny gags -- Puss lapping at the leche makes me chuckle -- and it’s worth mentioning that there is nary a pop culture reference to be found. (Disappointing, though, that they kind of run the “Puss in Boots sad face” gag into the ground.) Animation looks lovely with some better-than-average use of 3D, though it is definitely not necessary to spend the extra bucks. Great score, too, which invokes Morricone and was actually was stuck in my head for a while afterward -- which is more than I can say for the movie itself.
PUSS IN BOOTS opens this weekend. Kids will undoubtedly love it and parents should find it inoffensive, painless and, at times, mildly amusing. But let’s hope that the SHREK series ends here once and for all. Seriously, Dreamworks... even if PUSS makes a ton of money, please know that no good could come from a Gingerbread Man movie!