Shrek’s journey has been one of highs and lows, but it was running out of interesting places to go, something even Shrek the Third director Chris Miller would agree with. Concentrating on another of Shrek’s travelling companions was always going to be a tall order; making a supporting character stand alone in a film can go either way. Miller and co have definitely succeeded with Puss in Boots in the new 3D film of the same name, tapping into the older audience’s nursery-rhyme nostalgia while putting the ‘cool’ back into the time-old stories for the newer generation.
Long before he met Shrek, the notorious fighter, lover and outlaw Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) was an orphan then a criminal then a local hero after an adventure to track down some magic beans and the Golden Goose with tough, street-smart Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and criminal mastermind Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).
Puss in Boots is a hearty hoot with a fairy-tale twist created by feline experts who should count themselves as having got the cream and wiped the floor afterwards with other family animations out there at the moment. Puss is certainly one hell of a fun kitty to watch who revels in his lead role, stepping out of the shadows of Shrek. He gets a chance to reveal his full personality in this, all within a neat 90-minute run-time with some well choreographed action that makes full use of the 3D technology in the sword fights.
Banderas and Hayek conjure up as much sexy Latin charm in their hilarious sparring that a U-rated film can allow, enough to get things sizzling for those old enough to understand, while, thankfully, coming across as playful, squabbling kitties to those too young to know. Banderas’s Puss shows a more vulnerable side in this to his dashing, arrogant self, aided by a purposeful but brief back-story with Humpty Dumpty that balances misfortune and humour in equal, satisfying measure, as not to be over-sentimental. This also serves as Puss’s raison d’être for his spectrum of feelings for his egg-headed friend who betrays him and his subsequent redemption.
Hayek is the confident one to Puss’s self-deprecating side that marries very well in the confrontations – the old ‘opposites attract’ rule. Watching these characters interact is an absolute thrill and creates the film’s high-spirited, often frenetic energy. These ‘meeting of the minds’ moments are wonderfully interrupted by acutely observed feline antics, including the paw-grabbing light trick that is absolutely hilarious after some intense, suave patter.
In contrast, Galifianakis’s vocal performance as Humpty Dumpty adds a child-like innocence to proceedings then changes and becomes self-centred and greedy in nature. Humpty for the kids is like the school bully, hurtful but actually hurting and with more to lose. Galifianakis is a chameleon of charm and menace and an odd, welcoming distraction from the Latin amore at times. It’s this compelling trio of variable characters that make the film so strong in character concept. With Neanderthal-like criminal heavies Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) on their case to shake up events, and a Godzilla-like Golden Goose rampaging through the town at the end, Puss in Boots is a well-crafted, well-intentioned romp through fairy-tale land – even if there are a couple of continuity gaffs some might spot, for example, the weighty golden eggs becoming as light as the chick’s feather back at camp.
Chaotic yet beautifully arranged, sensuous yet innocent, Puss in Boots is a fun-packed treat full of delightful, detailed contradictions and touching tales with a manageable-sized cast that you get well acquainted with and fully enjoy. Cat lovers will be in kitty heaven.