October 30, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
Last week, Paranormal Activity 3 caught a glimpse of the childhood backgrounds of haunted sisters Katie and Kristi. The week before that, The Thing revealed to old and new horror fans alike the cult creature’s icy origins before Kurt Russell & Co. got a piece. This weekend, the parade of October prequels marches on as Puss in Boots steps into his own spotlight in a Shrek spin-off, the fifth film in the family fantasy franchise. It may not be exceptionally memorable, but this kitty’s got enough claws, charming character, and original content to sustain the birth of its own series.
Puss in Boots comes out of the gate strongly, putting to rest any doubts whether the formerly direct-to-DVD production could play in the big leagues. It provides nearly everything you could hope for and expect from DreamWorks Animation. Beyond the exquisite visuals (with good, but not great, 3D) and decent story, you’re treated to a full serving of the studio’s biggest plus over rival Pixar, the edgy humor that has become one of DreamWorks’ trademarks. Impressively, Puss in Boots also sheds the tired tendency of relying on pop culture references as a cheap crutch. The refreshing fairy tale satire holds plenty of hilarious moments that will make both adults and kiddos laugh out loud.
However, the double entendres that’ll keep the parents alert seem to have come at a slight cost. Yeah, I get it’s a family film, so Puss in Boots must cater to the kids… and I know boots are involved, but what is up with America’s obsession with dance sequences? They’ve even made their way into robot boxing movies! There are way too many in Bootloose, but I suppose the stinger is excusable since it’s sort of a Shrek tradition. Aside from the dancing overkill, the only other real issue I had with Puss in Boots was that some plot elements and random jokes felt out of place, especially once Humpty Dumpty shows up.
That has nothing to do with Zack Galifanakis’ voicework though. Director Chris Miller keeps Puss in Boots‘ creative imagination more appealing than his last (and only) feature effort, Shrek the Third; however, the introduction of Humpty’s character ushers in a strange vibe that also includes “wth?” gags typical of Family Guy‘s later seasons. Antonio Banderas provides excellent voicework for the titular hero, but frequent collaborator Salma Hayek is merely an interchangeable part.
While not breakthrough or extraordinary, the action-packed prequel is certainly a great addition to the Shrek series. In fact, Puss in Boots is perhaps the best movie in the fairy tale universe since the first sequel, when the scene-stealing feline sidekick was introduced. Comparable overall to DreamWorks Animations’ last film, Kung Fu Panda 2, but not quite as delightful or unforgettable as Nickelodeon’s Rango, the witty prequel should secure an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. And with this cat’s potential to cash in its nine lives for a standalone franchise, I wouldn’t mind some sequels in the future. Puss in Boots gets 4 out of 5 stars or B+ or Great.