The Shrek movies may not even exist as far we’re concerned in Puss in Boots, which is fine, because they just kept getting worse; last year’s Shrek Forever After in 3-D felt especially flat. But the franchise reboots anew here, if you’ll pardon the pun, with great energy, creativity and aplomb.
This spin-off is actually a prequel, providing the origin story of the diminutive, swashbuckling kitty voiced with great charisma, as always, by Antonio Banderas. The role has been an ideal showcase for Banderas to have a little fun with his suave, sophisticated image; he revels in Puss’ playfulness and faux bravado as well as his genuine courage and heart.
At the film’s start, Puss is an outlaw in his own small, Spanish hometown. Flashbacks take us to his childhood at an orphanage, where he was best friends with a brainy, ambitious Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Together, the two dreamed of stealing the magic beans, climbing the beanstalk and getting rich off some golden eggs. That crime has become Humpty’s obsession; he tries to enlist Puss as the brawn of the operation, which would allow both to enjoy some redemption.
Humpty’s partner in this caper is the dangerous master thief Kitty Softpaws, voiced with slinky seduction by Banderas’ frequent co-star, Salma Hayek. It’s a clever collaboration that doesn’t feel like stunt casting, as is the case with many animated films; they’re so good together after so long, it just makes sense.
But since Puss is a lover as much as he’s a fighter, you know he’ll find a way to win her over. A dance-off between the two characters early on, when Kitty is still disguised and Puss is unaware she’s a woman, is exquisitely choreographed and hilariously funny.
The Puss in Boots character eventually felt like the best part of the Shrek movies, but a little of him goes a long way. Giving him an entire movie of his own would seem a stretch, and really, he has trouble sustaining his shtick for the film’s 90-minute running time. But for quick, lively, family friendly entertainment, Puss in Boots works just fine, even in 3-D, which is integrated thoughtfully into the narrative and doesn’t just feel like a gimmick. Through chases, swordfights, dance sequences and even a flight into the clouds, the 3-D consistently provides a feeling of propulsive motion.
Puss looks so soft and fluffy and tactile in his little, leather boots, his jaunty, feathered hat and his shiny sword, you’ll want to reach out and pet him, especially when he’s a tiny kitten working those big, green eyes for maximum manipulative effect. But just as impressive is the way the film from director Chris Miller (Shrek the Third) gives detailed expression and personality to a talking egg. Merely the idea that Humpty Dumpty might be a criminal mastermind is good for a laugh, but Galifianakis infuses the character with a healthy mix of neediness and megalomania. He gets so into the character, you might not even realize it’s him under that shell until the credits roll.
Voices: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris.
Director: Chris Miller.
Screenwriters: Charles Perrault, Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler, Jon Zack.
Producers: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou.
A DreamWorks Animation release. Running time: 90 minutes. Adventure action, mild rude humor. Opens Friday Oct. 28 at area theaters.