The famous feline given a dashing and comical incarnation in the Shrek series gets his own starring adventure in what will almost certainly follow in its predecessor’s footsteps as a lucrative franchise.
As you might have expected, Puss in Boots plays like a fairy-tale-Spaghetti-Western-Zorro mash-up. Much of the film’s humor is broad and effective — and largely derived from the amusing pleasures of watching a cat who walks upright, fancies himself a lover and bellies up to the bar to order leche.
With Antonio Banderas reprising his engaging vocal characterization as the sword-wielding kitty with a Spanish accent, Puss in Boots is mostly fun, funny and free of the pop culture references that eventually made the Shrek series more exhausting than entertaining.
For the most part, this is a lean tale that wants to visually dazzle and amuse. It often hits the mark on both counts. The juxtaposition of Puss’s human- and cat-like traits is always good for laughs. A cute dance-off between Puss and master thief Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) highlights their introductory battle of one-upsmanship.
Puss in Boots is also a pleasure to look at. Its 3D presentation gives warmth and depth to the cozy town of San Ricardo, with its narrow streets and clay roof tiles. The beanstalk sequence – yes, as in Jack and the Beanstalk — is the film’s highlight, an imaginatively rendered version of the world among the clouds where Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover) seeks to find his fortune.
The movie tethers its origin tale to an adventure in which Humpty convinces Puss and Kitty to help him steal three magic beans from the grotesque Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) so they can obtain the riches of the goose who lays golden eggs.
Complicating matters is the relationship between Puss and Humpty, who were once best friends and fellow orphans in San Ricardo. Even then, Humpty was searching for the magic beans that would allow him to escape a place where he felt he didn’t belong. But when his quest turns to desperation, Humpty suffers a metaphorical “great fall” that leaves bitterness and a quest for revenge in its wake. To earn his redemption, another great fall, this one more literal, is required. Galifianakis is well cast in the role, using his vocal talents to convey Humpty’s friendliness, petulance and impatience.
To go along with its chuckles, Puss in Boots offers lessons on friendship and loyalty that are well-intentioned, though a little muddled. However imperfect, they lend this tale a joyful uplift that the filmmakers should keep in mind as they continue the series.