Release Date: October 21, 2011 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Rating: PG (for some adventure action and mild rude humor)
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Chris Miller
Actors: Voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro

Quick: What was the best thing about the Shrek films? Maybe you liked the send-ups of classic fairy tales, or Mike Myers’ voice as the title character. Maybe you loved Eddie Murphy’s vocal performance as Donkey. Or maybe, if you’re like me, you most enjoyed the way Antonio Banderas’ voice brought zest to the character of Puss in Boots, a sword-wielding feline who could turn on a dime and evoke tender pity, dilating his pupils at will.

In Puss in Boots, the cat grabs the top spot in his own feature film, and the spinoff may be just the jumpstart that animated family films needed ahead of the holiday-movie season. Shrek Forever After, the previous Shrek film, and supposedly the last in that series, met with decent but far from overwhelming response in the summer of 2010, but earlier this year, Gnomeo & Juliet indicated that audiences still respond to familiar stories played with a fun twist. However, it was a subsequent 2011 release, Rango, that showed a way forward for animated family films, delivering a jolt of oddball storytelling mixed with dazzling visuals. Rango not only provided entertaining dialogue but referenced iconic scenery, camera angles and famous characters from classic films (Westerns in particular). Although the humor was too often well over the heads of youngsters, audiences of all ages responded to Rango, making it the choice of family filmgoers and cinephiles simultaneously. That’s no easy feat.

With Puss in Boots, Dreamworks Animation serves notice that it, too, is hungry to bridge those two groups. In Puss, the fairy-tale fun is back and the 3D animation is a treat, filled with echoes of Spaghetti Westerns and Monument Valley-like vistas that are reminiscent of the great films of director John Ford.

Puss is living life as a misunderstood outlaw when he runs into his old pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover Part II), but there’s bad blood between them from long ago. The two were, we learn, raised together in an orphanage, but they parted on bad terms.

Puss, beset by bitter feelings over a perceived betrayal by Humpty, spends his post-orphanage years working solo—until, that is, he meets Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, Grown Ups), a clawless cat who insinuates herself into a Puss heist and helps to reunite Puss and Humpty. Kitty eggs Humpty and Puss on, encouraging them in a quest for golden eggs.

First, the gang will need to climb a beanstalk, but to get a beanstalk, they’ll need magic beans. To get the beans, they’ll have to deal with the villainous Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris). That duo’s storyline, involving a violent streak and a desire for a child, are part of what pushes Puss in Boots out of the ‘G’ realm and into ‘PG’ territory, as are a few references to Puss’ loving ways (“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Puss explains.)

The first 20 to 30 minutes of Puss in Boots is so visually striking and the jokes so amusing (a dance sequence is an unexpected highlight) that the rest of the film, focused on the mechanics of the beanstalk plot, proves a slight letdown. The film’s early comic energy flags toward the end of the film’s 90-minute running time, and a couple of long chase scenes, while containing moments of visual grace, feel a bit too by-the-book for a movie that exceeds expectations in many other areas. A finale featuring a rampaging goose and a covered wagon that takes flight tested the limits of this critic’s gratitude, but the audience’s hearty applause at the film’s conclusion may be a better barometer of the movie’s ability to entertain viewers of all ages.

Even if Puss in Boots is running on empty by its conclusion, its high-octane beginning gives it the push it needs to cross the finish line a winner. Overall, this spinoff is superior to the most recent entries in the Shrek series from which it came—making the prospect of “nine lives” for this cinematic cat seem purr-fectly palatable.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: “Holy frijoles”; “pooper”; “shut up”; a joke about “golden eggs” that suggests an anatomical reference.
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Scenes in a saloon where milk is the drink of choice.
  • Sex/Nudity: A man’s trousers fall down, exposing his boxer shorts; Jill tells Jack she wants a baby; Puss refers to himself as a lover, not a fighter.
  • Violence/Crime: Cartoon violence and battles, including sword fights, gunfire and cannon shots; Puss and Humpty plot theft of golden eggs; characters describe themselves as outlaws; Puss lives by his own code, which includes no stealing from orphans; Puss hits Kitty in the head with a guitar; fingers are pricked as part of an oath.
  • Religion: Puss says he’s known by many names, including “Diablo Gato”; human nature is discussed, with the idea that there is good inside of those who are outwardly bad.
     

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.