Spin-off movies from animation franchises traditionally take the direct to video route, with the animation and voice talent downgraded. Dreamworks have clearly noted the overwhelming volume and popularity of cat videos in the internet and decided that light clawed feline Puss in Boots had greater potential than a cheap knock off with Eric Estrada replacing Antonio Banderas as the lead voice talent.
Puss in Boots is a prequel to the characters' appearance in the second of the Shrek films. When first introduced back in 2004 Puss in Boots was a defender of he innocent, and renowned hero, in this earlier tale he is an outlaw with a bad reputation. The roguish lothario is drawn into a plot to steal magic beans from Jack and Jill by comely cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Hayek). Puss is initially reluctant when he discovers the mastermind of the scheme is former childhood friend and criminal mastermind Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis). However the lure of loot and the fragrant Ms. Kitty are too tempting to resist. The trio need the magic beans to mount a daring heist of steal golden eggs from the giant's castle at the top of the fairy tale beanstalk. As the plan progresses we are also told the story of Puss' orphanage childhood and the roots of his enmity towards Humpty. This trebles the cute factor by featuring Puss as a kitten.
The film takes place (mostly) in a stylised Mexico. Although this is a CG animation, landscapes and backgrounds have the beautiful hand crafted look of classic Hollywood matte paintings. In the Shrek films Puss in Boots brought a dash of Errol Flynn to a parody of a Disney fairy tale, the swashbuckling feel of a Zorro serial is more pronounced in Puss' own film as you would expect. However the fairy tale magic beans plot and Humpty Dumpty character sit somewhat uneasily in a world that is part 30s swashbuckler and part Sergio Leone spaghetti western. It isn't helped by the fact that in comparison to the wonderfully rendered acrobatic antics of Puss and Kitty, Humpty is a rather visually boring character.
However, while the plot doesn't quite gell, Puss in Boots manages to rise above this by virtue of being great fun. The script is amusing – "it's for my glaucoma" says a mortified Puss when a bottle of catnip is discovered in his possession. Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek give spirited voice performances, and generate real chemistry between their animated selves. There is a great mock Morricone score, with contributions by Rodrigo Y Gabriella. The animation is great, particularly in capturing the mannerisms of cats (clearly a lot of YouTube videos were watched). The film's set pieces are palpable hits, my favourite being a chase scene with Puss pursuing Kitty over rooftops ending in a great dance number in a underground hacienda for cats. The Shrek films became increasingly blighted by movie in jokes, happily these are mostly absent here, the exception is a Fight Club reference that is both dated and inappropriate
Puss in Boots is not going to set the world alight, but it is solid entertainment, and DreamWorks' best animated effort of last year. The film is nicely pitched to delight both boys and girls with its mixture of action, romance, and cute furry fun. At the same time, there is enough wit and invention in the gags and action to keep adults entertained.
EXTRAS ★★★★ Top of the list is a special new animated short, Puss In Boots: The three Diablos (13:05), in which our hero has to recover a stolen ruby, with the "help" of three rather mischievious foes. The rest of the bonus material consists of: A DreamWorks Fairytale, in which you choose from a list of words to create your own customised Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, or Jack and the Beanstalk nursery rhyme; the game Puss’ Paw Pouncing Challenge; The Animators’ Corner – consisting of storyboards, music and interviews with creators, animators, cast and crew – which appears as a picture-in-pucture during the film; Trivia Track, which is details about the film, cat facts, fairytale references and more, which pops up during the film; deleted scenes (7:27); the featurette Purr-fect Pairing: The Voices Behind The legend (9:21), which takes a look at the voice cast and the audio recording sesssions; the behind-the-scenes featurette Kitten to Cat (12:01); the featurette Glitter Box Dance Off (5:01), which looks at the coreography of the "kitty cantina" scene; the featurette Klepto Kitty (3:24); Kitty Keyboard, which plays "kitty" versons of songs (50:30); a Fairytale Pop-Up Book; the game Kitty Strikes Again; and trailers for other Dreamworks releases.