It’s that awkward week between Christmas and New Year where the holiday season isn’t quite over yet, but the end is in sight. It’s also a week where parents cart their wretched spawn off to the cinema to keep ’em sedated for a bit, and with today’s hessian prices, it’s cheaper than drowning them in a sack. Speaking of which- Puss in Boots!
After driving the Shrek films into the ground with the godawful Shrek the Third and the slightly less awful, but still shite Shrek Forever After, Dreamworks Animation decided they haven’t squeezed enough out of the topsy-turvy fairytale idea and decided to do a full film based on one of the series’ most popular characters. Like everyone else, I like Puss.What I didn’t like was the idea of a decent supporting character, with his appeal on the wane anyway thanks to the aforementioned celluloid warcrimes, being made into just another boring cash-in vehicle. However, this film has proved one thing to me. If you put time and actual effort into even the laziest of ideas, it is possible to make it good. Also, if the reviews have taught me anything, it’s that people are being paid to write cat puns so simplistic and shit that not even a Christmas cracker would have the audacity to include as a “joke”.
Puss in Boots is a prequel to the character’s appearance in Shrek 2. We see the heroic Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) caught up in a plan, led by ex-childhood friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and the mysterious Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), to steal some magic beans from the oafish, pig-raising married couple Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sudaris). The story isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s a good enough framework to support the rest of the film. Antonio Banderas is genuinely funny as Puss and the rest of the voice work is of your standard Hollywood animation high quality.
So, like it or not, the focus in on Puss and thankfully his charm doesn’t wear off. If you love cats (and since you’re reading this on the Internet, statistically you fucking love them) there’s a lot here for you. What I liked about the film though is the fact that they didn’t solely rely on “LOL, he’s a cat!!1” jokes. Yeah, he orders milk and chases spots of light, but they’re few and far enough between to actually be endearing rather than annoying. Plus, if you don’t at least “aww” a little bit when you see Puss as a kitten, you’re made of stronger stuff than I. Part of me wanted to leap up from my seat and hug the screen, sobbing. However, fear of being vilified for such a bizarre act in a screen containing my mother, my grandmother and about 30 kids and their parents kept me firmly in place. Since Puss in Boots is from the Shrek canon, there are a couple of adult aimed jokes- the most obvious one being a guard itemising Puss’ belongings and finding a vial of catnip, to which Puss sheepishly replies “It’s for my glaucoma”. Unusually for this type of film there are very few pop culture references, which is like a breath of fresh air.
I saw the film in eye-massaging 2D and nothing was lost. Like in Kung Fu Panda 2, I could tell it was made to appeal to glasses-wearing saps, due to the choice of camera angles during chase sequences, but it really doesn’t matter how many bloody dimensions you see it in. The set-pieces are great, including a fantastic bit with a beanstalk and an exciting carriage chase with Jack and Jill. What I liked most though was the fact that the whole “blending of fairytales” seems somewhat fresher this time and the characters are well-rounded. The character of Humpty Dumpty for instance, is extremely well done (no pun intended). His arc is believable and yes, surprisingly moving too. That’s right- I found myself sympathising with a cartoon egg. I’m prepared to accept the consequences of what that bold statement will bring.
I was surprised by how much Puss in Boots entertained me. Maybe it was the mental adjustment of expectations beforehand, but y’know what? It’s fun. It’s colourful, it’s genuinely funny at times and it has a real charm that I wasn’t expecting from a spin-off to a series that has already whored itself out for three sequels, a musical and countless other pieces of tie-in crap. Whilst I know in my heart that Dreamworks have franchise plans up the wazoo for Puss, it doesn’t stop this film from being good. It’s a fun family film that features lots of dancing cats. You know you want to see it.