When “Shrek Forever After” was released in 2010, it was advertised as the last installment of the series, but, in the age of countless sequels, we all knew that was far from being true. As a matter of fact, because it was originally titled “Shrek: The Final Chapter” and that reminded me of how they continued Friday the 13th series, I once joked to my twitter friends that they would soon make “Shrek: A New Beginning” in the next year.
And, what do you know, they indeed made a sort of sequel, but “Puss in Boots” is a little more entertaining than I expected. They wisely left behind the materials which has been running out of steam since “Shrek”(2001), and they instead focused on the best thing in “Shrek 2”(2004) – Puss in Boots, voiced with gusto by Antonio Banderas. Though this is not a fresh try, Puss in Boots is a character interesting enough to carry its own story, and this spin-off/prequel is a good animation with enough energy and humor.
The considerable part of the story is devoted to how Puss becomes a notorious outlaw as we have seen in Shrek animations. When he was young(and cuter, of course), he was sent in the basket to the orphanage run by a kind woman named Imelda(voiced by Constance Marie). This is the land of the fairy tales, so a kitten was naturally treated as equal as other boys in the orphanage; in one scene, we see Puss sitting amid the boys and girls imitating Dickensian orphans in the dining hall. I noticed that some boy has blue skin – from which fairy tale does he come from?
At that time, Puss was a quiet and shy kitten, but he made a friend of young Humpty-Dumpty, who had lots of ideas and dreams including the magic beans from Jack and Beanstalk story. Humpty-Dumpty is voiced by Zach Galiafinakis, and Humpty-Dumpty is not that different from those walking troubles Galiafinakis has played in the movies; he is a friend who will cling to you in the name of friendship and then will cause major headaches to make you want to punch his head if he were not a fragile egg which cannot be put back into the original shape again.
Anyway, thanks to Humpty-Dumpty, Puss, who was once the hero of the town, was disgraced and ran away from the town, and now, while looking for a new juicy job in some other town, he meets Humpty-Dumpty again through Humpty-Dumpty’s sexy accomplice Kitty Softpaw(voiced by Salma Hayek). Though he does not trust Humpty-Dumpty much, Puss joins in their heist plan; they will steal those magic beans kept by a vicious couple Jack and Jill, who are fortunately not played by Adam Sandler but voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris.
As a heist/adventure story, “Puss in Boots” works nicely with wits and energy. It provides several action sequences with the spirit of those swashbuckling films and western films; there is a busy chase scene happening around the alleys, and then we get an exciting action sequences between two wagons in the perilous circumstance. Puss is an animal version of Zorro, so we see him doing a lot of things besides wielding his little sword fancifully.
In addition, this is a good-looking animation. I liked the castle floated high above the soft clouds in the sky, which reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”(1986) for few seconds. One question came upon to me though I was well aware of that the movie is a fairy tale: how is the castle supported by the clouds? I may accept that outrageous fairy tale premise, but it was a little uneasy to me to watch the characters playing around the clouds, which can easily be wiped even with a small touch.
The movie has some flaws. Its story feels weak especially when compared to “Rango”(2010), which is also a fun but serious parody influenced by western films. The development of the relationship between Puzz and Humpty-Dumpty is quite predictable, and it is resolved in a rather unsatisfying way amid the expected big actions in the third act. The villains in the film are wasted though they surely look mean and menacing. If they cast the actor like Thornton as the villain, shouldn’t they do something more than providing some cheap gag lines on having a normal life?
Thankfully, the movie is short and brisk enough for me to ignore these weak points, and Banderas has a big fun again as a smooth, charming, but sneaky cat with some code of honor and that killer hypnotic look. Though they are not really acting or dancing on the screen, the voice performances of Banderas and Hayek spark with visible chemistry throughout the running time. They are really fun during the confrontation sequence which is the major highlight in the film. Surrounded by countless kittens(some of them are good musicians who delighted me and other audiences), Puss and Kitty Softpaw dance with passionate rivalry in every way possible for them; it does not take a long time for them to meow and cuddle with each other.
On the whole, “Puss in Boots” is somehow better than what we expected as the spin-off of the increasingly tiresome series. Though I would not have minded if it had went straight to DVD market, this animation is certainly more enjoyable and charming than “Shrek Forever After”. Due to its success, it will probably spawn its own sequels, but that sounds less dreadful than “Shrek 5” – at least for now.
1. I saw it in 3D – I do not think 3D is necessary in this case.
2. Thanks to a certain group of animals roaming around the campus, the students at my campus will have a big laugh during the climax.