Puss continues to offer strong CGI charisma, and given the improved narrative focus and huge box office potential, it's safe to say that DreamWorks has found another franchise-worthy golden goose.
Despite great box office returns, over time, many film fans began to tire of the Shrek franchise's repeated formula of mixing classic fairy tale characters, pop culture references, and adult humor couched in family-friendly CGI fun. Shrek 2 was the most successful installment in the franchise (and currently sits at number 5 in "All Time Box Office" numbers) but the final film, Shrek Forever After, barely managed to do half of those numbers.
As a result, it wasn't particularly surprising when DreamWorks Animation announced that they intended to produce a spinoff centered around fan-favorite feline swordsman, Puss in Boots. Has DreamWorks injected Puss' solo venture with the same care and comedy smarts as the earlier Shrek installments - or is the movie little more than one last cash grab in the fading fairy tale franchise?
Fortunately Puss in Boots is a much more linear (and less convoluted) film when compared to the last few Shrek installments. While there are still an abundance of recognizable fairy tale characters and pop culture gags, the story has a competent, but simple, throughline that keeps things moving and prevents the movie from getting bogged down by overzealous attempts at being clever. The narrative jumps around quite a bit and some characters aren't as fun to watch (or interesting) as they could have been, but Puss in Boots is a step up for the franchise - one that will surely resonate with families and moviegoers who are looking for a simple but silly movie adventure.
The Puss in Boots story takes place before the character's introduction in Shrek 2, with the swashbuckling feline acting as more of a legendary thief and less like the legendary hero audiences have come to embrace. He's not a bad guy, he doesn't steal from churches or orphanages, but has no problem stealing from other baddies just for a shot of leche (milk). In search of his next score, Puss (Antonio Banderas) discovers that the "magic beans" he's been searching for are actually real - and sets out to steal them from the clutches of the dastardly Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, respectively). In the process, Puss is deterred by Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) as well as reunited with an old friend, Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Despite competing motivations and tenuous allegiances, the trio decide that working together is their best chance at acquiring the treasures at the top of the beanstalk (by way of Puss' sword, Humpty Dumpty's brain, and Kitty Softpaws' gentle touch) and they set out on a journey to acquire said magic beans.
Puss definitely has enough charisma to headline the movie and, surprisingly, the filmmakers didn't bog down the story and action with too many feline-focused jokes. Obviously the film riffs on the fact Puss is a talking cat, but the story supplies plenty of room for him to be more than just a comedy caricature (a problem that many Shrek side characters suffered from after multiple iterations), resulting in a protagonist that's actually worthy of a spin-off story arc. New characters such as Kitty Softpaws and Humpty Alexander Dumpty also offer some fun moments that help ground Puss a bit - giving the audience room to see more of the character than just a flashy swordsman.
Unfortunately, the implementation of Jack and Jill as well as the larger beanstalk adventure is significantly less interesting than the moment to moment interplay between the three main characters. The villains could have provided an enjoyable remix to their fairy tale counterparts, but instead rely entirely on an unfunny gag about "raising children" that dominates each of their conversations. It's a chuckle-worthy joke the first time around, but in a franchise that's been filled with colorful and imaginative troublemakers, Jack and Jill fall short of the kind of imaginative reinterpretations we've seen in the Shrek series.
Despite offering a fun variety of comedy and action set-pieces, the larger beanstalk adventure is also disappointing at times and leaves the story's potential largely untapped. Puss's journey up the beanstalk offers some enjoyable 3D visuals, but it's an extremely brief trek - one that manages to make even a magic castle in the sky somewhat boring and void of wonder.
As with most CGI animated films, there's a definite benefit to seeing Puss in Boots in 3D. There are plenty of gimmicky moments, but the added dimension definitely pays off in some of the larger set pieces. The 3D isn't especially creative, but for the film's target audience (youngsters), it will likely serve as icing on an already enticing cake. That said, moviegoers who would rather stick to 2D shouldn't feel too bad about skipping the 3D visuals.
Despite a few lackluster characters and story beats, DreamWorks has definitely put together a fun and entertaining spin-off film that younger moviegoers, as well as their adult counterparts, are sure to enjoy. Fans of the Shrek series will also find plenty to enjoy in Puss in Boots - a silly adventure with familiar tongue-in-cheek pop culture references. Puss continues to offer strong CGI charisma, and given the improved narrative focus and huge box office potential, it's safe to say that DreamWorks has found another franchise-worthy golden goose.
If you’re still on the fence about Puss in Boots, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:
Puss in Boots is now in 2D and 3D theaters.
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