The swashbuckling, sultry-voiced Shrek sidekick gets his own adventure in Puss in Boots.
Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) is, as he informs us, an outlaw, but one on the side of righteousness — he won’t steal from churches or orphans. He is also a lover of female felines, leaving them sighing as he steals off into the night. We learn that he himself was an orphan, raised by a loving woman named Imelda (Constance Marie), at an orphanage where his best friend was another oddball, an egg-boy named Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). The two dreamed of great adventures — Humpty in particular was enchanted with the idea of finding magic beans and climbing the legendary beanstalk that would take him to the goose who laid the golden eggs. But as he got older Humpty’s plans turned criminal, and Puss and Humpty are implicated in a bank robbery after which Humpty goes to jail and Puss is forced into a life as a petty criminal on the lam.
When he hears about notorious criminals Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) and their possession of the magic beans, Puss, who had long ago chalked the story up to myth, decides to attempt to swipe the beans. But mid-purloining, he is interrupted by another thief, a sassy girl cat known as Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). She too is after the beans and the gold at the top of the beanstalk.
I was charmed by the first Shrek but less delighted by half with each subsequent sequel. Puss in Boots is lighter, sweeter stuff than the Shrek movies have been for a long while, and less likely to lean on the crutch of pop culture references than even the first movie was. There is not as much to Puss in Boots, but I think that’s to the movie’s benefit. It is mostly an action adventure tale, with moments of sly humor about the fairy tale world or visual references to Western movies sprinkled throughout. Banderas has fun with his character, who gets to be suave but goofy, upright but also kind of rascally. It may not be as impassioned a vocal performance as, say, Patton Oswalt’s in Ratatouille, but it is a jolly performance. None of the other characters give standout performances — in the way that Eddie Murphy did as Donkey in Shrek — but then none were so manic as to get in the way of the story either (the way Eddie Murphy’s Donkey did in some of the Shreks).
The movie also succeeds visually. The warm red, orange and yellow landscape of, er, Spain (?) or wherever we are works well with the dramatic shadows the swordfighter’s hats throw on everything. Elements like the beanstalk are not just pretty but keep you sucked in to the story. And, while it’s not a must, I actually liked the use of 3-D here. My guess is that the movie looked just as good without it — this is often the case with animation, which uses 3-D the best of all the movies but needs it least — but if you have a few extra bucks and aren’t taking too many kids to the theater, this might be one case when you should go for it. (I hesitate to say definitely see it in 3-D because it isn’t vital to the experience of the movie in the way that it was with Avatar or Tron: Legacy and because you never know exactly how a theater might mess up the screening of a 3-D film, leaving you with nothing but a headache and an empty wallet.)
Puss in Boots is exactly want you want, but don’t always get, from a family film — a charming little story and a fun time at the theater. B+
Rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor. Directed by Chris Miller and written by Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg and Jon Zack with a screenplay by Tom Wheeler (from the character by Charles Perrault), Puss in Boots is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed by DreamWorks. It opens on Friday, Oct. 28.