Almost a decade after DreamWorks Animation first released Shrek (2001), the billion dollar franchise’s quality control hit an all time low with the tired and clumsy Shrek Forever After (2010). It might be a while before we see a certain Scottish green ogre on the big screen again, but Shrek the Third (2007) director Chris Miller has plucked another character from the land of Far, Far Away and given him the leading role in a swashbuckling prequel Puss in Boots (2011).
Tricked into robbing the bank of his adopted village by friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), charismatic swordsman Puss (Antonio Banderas) becomes a wanted cat and reluctantly adopts the life of an outlaw thief. Years later, during an attempt to relieve Jack and Jill of their magic beans, Puss runs into cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) who has teamed up with Humpty to steal the Golden Goose from a giant’s castle . Forming an uneasy alliance, the three of them team up for the ultimate fairytale heist.
The pairing of Desperado (1995) stars Banderas and Hayek for Puss in Boots is inspired casting. Both excel as the voices of Puss and Kitty, and Banderas in particular is pitch perfect as the feline Latin lover. Half-Zorro, and half-Don Juan, the key to his performance is playing it fairly straight, allowing the moving childhood scenes between Puss and Humpty to work outside of the film’s comedy (which is, by and large, very funny indeed).
As for the film’s 3D element, it certainly isn’t in the same league as Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011) or Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), but works well enough and appears justified. One particular scene in which the camera swoops across the plains is simple, yet effective. It seems now that as filmmakers begin to get to grips with the technology, they are beginning to fulfil its potential.
Puss in Boots succeeds in reminding us what a great idea the original Shrek movie was. Using old fairy tales and nursery rhymes as source material provides an almost limitless opportunity to play around with established, fabled characters. A certain ogre may be getting a little old in the tooth, but the world he inhabits has many more stories to tell. Miller’s Puss in Boots may only be the first successful movie spin-off, but it almost certainly won’t be the last.