“Puss in Boots” claws itself a new franchise

By Kevin Romani

DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” franchise offered a string of four successful films that grossed over $1.25 billion combined domestically. The series began to falter in quality after original director Andrew Adamson left the series following “Shrek 2.” DreamWorks saw the writing on the wall after “Shrek the Third” grossed $322.7 million and “Shrek Forever After” dropped to $238.7 million domestically. These films followed the outstanding performance of “Shrek 2,” which collected an astonishing $441.2 million in U.S. theaters. Fans were less interested in the giant green ogre, but the numbers were still high enough for a spin-off to be considered, thus creating the spinoff as “Puss in Boots.”

Courtesy getthebigpicture.net
Courtesy getthebigpicture.net

“Puss in Boots” follows the titular character which first appeared in “Shrek 2.” The feline reincarnation of Zorro is voiced by Antonio Banderas − who coincidentally starred in two live-action “Zorro” films. Puss is a walking, talking cat that dons a sword, hat and boots that give him the appearance of a swashbuckling character from Saturday Matinee Serials from the 30s and 40s. Puss is cunning, elusive and charming, much like the live action characters often portrayed by Banderas.

The film takes place prior to the events of “Shrek 2.” In the film, Puss is in search of the mythical beans from the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fable. During his quest, Puss runs into his former ally Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and his new accomplice, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Puss and Humpty had a falling out over a previous incident, but have put their differences aside in order to find the magic beans together, something they dreamed of doing together since they were children.

Apart from the inclusion of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and Humpty Dumpty, the film makes only a few allusions to other fairy tales. This had been the driving force behind the “Shrek” franchise, as the films relied heavily on references and jokes pertaining to famous stories for children, with a twist of adult humor. Instead of following this similar template, the humor of “Puss in Boots” is mostly about cats.

This was a smart decision by the filmmakers, as a fifth film which incorporated the same exact style of humor may have been too much to entice audiences. Perhaps that is why “Shrek the Third” and “Shrek Forever After” are considered failures compared to the previous two installments. They instead took a popular character from the franchise and gave him his own film, and added a different type of humor to drive the narrative.

Cat lovers in particular will find this film entertaining, as there are several jokes pointing out the odd behavior of the pets. Similar to “Shrek 2,” there is an excellent joke about catnip and its effects on felines. Puss is also distracted by a small moving light, which highlights the inability cats have in staying focused. These are just a few of the humorous moments that focus on the problems of cats. Adding to the humor were jokes about Humpty Dumpty, the large and living egg. Similarly to jokes about Puss being a cat, several laughs from the film came from egg centric humor involving Humpty. By lending his voice, Galifianakis helped bring humor to the character as well.

The film also works due to the performances of Banderas and Hayek. The two actors have an unmistakable presence in the film, even though they only provide their vocals. The two have shared the screen together previously, most notably in “Desperado.” In this film, they had undeniable chemistry, and that chemistry translates well in “Puss in Boots.” The viewer forgets that Puss and Kitty are animated cats, but instead see them as actual people because of the personality given to them by the actors. Banderas and Hayek are essentially playing themselves − or at least the personification of themselves − and it works perfectly. They are both funny and flirtatious, and the film would have had problems without this excellent casting.

Additionally, the film offers excellent technical work for an animated film. The cinematography was more bold and daring than that which is typically seen in the genre. Director Chris Miller uses several interesting camera angles to help keep the film looking fresh and interesting, particular in his usage of various close ups. What stood out most was his incorporation of split screens, a technique made famous by director Brian De Palma in the 1970s and again by Quentin Tarantino in the 2000s. Not only did this stylistic decision add to the quality of the film, but it helped move the story along much faster. This helped keep the film at a crisp 90 minutes, which is a desirable time to help keep the attention of children – the main demographic which the film seeks to attract.

“Puss in Boots” may not be a comedic masterpiece, but it is a quality film that is perfect for the entire family to see. Fans of the more adult Banderas films will still appreciate the actor’s performance, especially since several adult-oriented humor is quietly found in the film. The film is not as strong as the first two “Shrek” installments, but is certainly an improvement over the third and fourth films of the series.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kevin Romani on Twitter @KevinRomani.