‘Shrek’ spinoff well-done origin tale
“Puss in Boots,” an origin tale for the popular “Shrek” character, is a model for how to build on what works. You won’t find anything new in Puss’ story, which is a surprisingly entertaining jumble of fairy tales and nursery rhyme characters transposed in a Spain-meets-Wild West storybook. What you will find, though, is a fun if sporadic adventure in a visually stunning landscape far more effervescent than any of the “Shrek” films.
The tale fleshes out the backstory of the titular character, an egotistical swashbuckler (voiced by Antonio Banderas) with delusions of grandeur and an eclectic group of acquaintances, including Humpty Dumpty, the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, Jack and Jill and Mother Goose herself. We’re also introduced to a love interest, the seductive Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who transitions from Puss’ competition to his partner in crime. The pair possesses serious skill on the dance floor, often breaking in flamenco-style numbers, but their teamwork always seems a tad forced (lest one loses the edge over the other).
The other characters, however, are more central to the story, if only visually. The covetous Jack and Jill, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, are devious villains terrorizing the countryside. Mother Goose, similar in size to the giant Gingerbread Man, is a sinister-seeming threat descending from on high to protect her golden chick, whom the outlaw partners have stolen from above.
Puss is as quick-witted and criminally capable as ever, but he doesn’t hold the same weight he had in “Shrek,” and the storyline, a chaotic mix of magic beans and golden eggs, suffers because of it. By contrast, Puss’ best friend-turned-enemy, Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), is a far more complex and interesting character. A human-like scramble of emotions and motives (had to get the egg joke in there somewhere; there’s only a million in the movie), Humpty is a Rorschach test whose expressive mannerisms and deceiving appearance combine to make an animated character of unrivaled relatability. It’s a good thing.
As to the connection between Puss and Humpty, they first meet in an orphanage, where they aspire of acquiring magic beans to grow a beanstalk they intend to climb into the clouds to steal the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. But before their dream can hatch into fruition, the two are separated and Puss becomes an outlaw. When they reunite, Humpty is furious over Puss’ perceived betrayal (“You left me cracked in pieces on a bridge, surrounded by soldiers — they wrote a song about it!”), but they come together to partake in their biggest adventure yet.
Directed by Chris Miller from a screenplay by Tom Wheeler, who wrote the story with Brian Lynch and Will Davies, “Puss” is a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to storytelling details. Too many changes of mind and heart leave you disoriented. On the flip side, Puss isn’t the clear-cut personality he was in “Shrek.” The story’s moral — vengeance and redemption — really doesn’t connect. And for a kids’ movie, the humor at times strays a bit too far into adult territory.
Even so, you won’t find a more visually spectacular movie out right now. A brilliant use of 3-D draws you in, creating a multidimensional landscape that’s at its best during the action sequences. No objects flying at you here.
Building off the success of the “Shrek” franchise, “Puss in Boots” plays to its strengths, showcasing a lighter fare meant for a younger audience. It wouldn’t be surprising to soon hear about a sequel in which we further regale in Puss’ adventures. And though this story can only last so long (“You cannot run forever, Puussss eeen Boooots!” an angry cat owner screams), you’ll finish the film wishing he can.
Four feline stars out of five.