Dreamworks’ latest doesn’t break any new ground, visually or otherwise, with this prequel to the popular ‘Shrek’ franchise. But ‘Puss in Boots’ (PG) is surprisingly good. Even moviegoers who didn’t care for the original trio of films about Shrek the ogre and his friends might like this spin-off.
The film tells the story of the notorious outlaw Puss (Antonio Banderas) before he ever met up with Shrek. In a bid to steal the Goose that lays the Golden Eggs, Puss teams up with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifinakis) for a series of swashbuckling adventures.
One of the things about this movie that really stands out is the relative lack of pop culture references. Pixar has perfected a brand of sly humor for its films that relies on wit, warmth, and sight gags that are inherently amusing, without necessarily being tied to current events; but Dreamworks has struggled to apply that same formula to its animated movies, with some of their movies feeling stale a few years after release. ‘Puss’ corrects this with amusing jokes and clever visuals.
There’s also a refreshing lack of the annoying body gags that seem to pepper children’s films, but generally disgust anyone over the age of ten. Add in plenty of action and eye-popping animation, and you’ve got a recipe for a hit. The script can be a bit leaden at times, compared to our light-footed feline front man, but it doesn’t drag down so much that you start getting bored. And it’s short—parents with restless kids will appreciate the 90-minute running time.
The voice casting is impressive, too. Antonio Banderas returns to lend his breathy Spanish accent to our hero, but he’s backed by actors of equal weight: Hayek, Galifinakis, Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Amy Sedaris (Jill), Guillermo del Toro (Moustache Man/Comandate), and Constance Marie (Imelda). Banderas and Hayek have great chemistry on-screen, so it’s nice to see them parlay that into a better family film than ‘Spy Kids 3D’.
After the sub-par ‘Shrek’ sequels, it’s nice to see Dreamworks bounce back with a movie more concerned with fun than with being clever or catchy. And that in itself makes the film catchy: who couldn’t love the feline fencer and his swaggering ego? It’s not as classic as the recent ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, and whether there’s enough material here for a pin-off franchise is debatable; but it is a fun and entertaining way to spend the afternoon with your kids (or anyone who’s a kid at heart).
It’s interesting to note that this movie was originally slated for a direct-to-DVD release before being shifted into theaters, and the switch seems to be paying off: ‘Puss’ had a smashing opening weekend at the box office, perhaps in part due to the large number of families seeking non-spooky weekend entertainment. Go for the fun of it all, without expectations of an award-winning script, and you’ll probably walk out with a smile.