When Shrek was first released in 2001, nobody could have guessed that the franchise would still be going strong 10 years later in the form of a spin-off based around a character in a sequel. But, cut to 2011 and Antonio Banderas’ swashbuckling Spanish tabby, Puss in Boots, has his very own movie.
And you know what? It’s pretty good.
Set in a distinctly Hispanic region of the Shrek universe, Puss in Boots throws our hero into a new adventure. The famed outlaw, sword fighter and feline Casanova reunites with Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), an old friend from his past. Teaming up with Humpty and the seductive cat-burglar Kitty Softpaws (Banderas’ Desperado co-star Salma Hayek), Puss goes on the hunt for magic beans and the golden goose that lives atop the beanstalk. As we’ve come to expect from Dreamworks animated pictures, the action set-pieces are slick and the many throw-away gags are good fun, but it was a relief to see that makers of Puss in Boots stray away the Shrek movies’ tendency to undercut a story at every turn in favour of self-aware pop culture references. They’ve also managed to turn Puss into something more than a one-gag character, fleshing out his history and crafting a story that pays homage to the spaghetti westerns, in particular The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The uneasy tension in this band of fortune hunters feels a lot like the central relationship in Sergio Leone’s classic film, where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach reluctantly team up to search of buried treasure. Strangely enough, 2011 proved to be the year of the animated Western, with Gore Verbinski winning an Oscar for his own Leone-influenced film Rango.
The voice performances are all perfectly well done and Banderas, in particular, sounds like he’s having the time of his life. While his recent on-screen performances would suggest that Banderas has contracted Al Pacino Syndrome (a condition where aging thesps succcumb to overacting) this plays to the benefit of a film where his deep melodious voice is effectively deployed to create a panto version of Zorro. Galifianakis is good as well, turning in a more layered character than we would expect from the man who brought us Alan, The Hangover’s resident weirdo.
With a great script, wonderful visuals and a keen sense of fun, Puss in Boots is a rare cross-generational hit that will delight the children and adults alike. But after you’ve seen it, don’t be surprised to find the kids stuffing the family cat into your favourite pair of Uggs.