'Puss in Boots' shoots its hairball too early, offering dwindling returns after an inspired opening
Puss in Boots Paramount Pictures
Director: Chris Miller
Screenplay: Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler and Jon Zack
Starring: The voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob
Thornton, Amy Sedaris and Constance Marie
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Opened October 28, 2011
(out of four)
Puss in Boots loses its footing early and never gets it back. It begins with a charming
establishing scene and continues with a brilliant sequence that culminates in a dance-off between
the titular Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) and a mysterious fellow outlaw in a black mask.
That the film reaches its apex in the first 10 or 15 minutes isn't such a terrible crime - the
letdown is that the rest of it settles into such a dry and unimaginative routine.
It's a shame, because it had so dramatically exceeded expectations with its opening. Puss in
Boots is a spinoff from the Shrek series, which Puss has been a scene-stealing part of since the
second installment. But that franchise ran out of steam a long time ago. Offshoots based around
supporting characters don't exactly have a great track record.
Which is why the great start is so surprising. There is more creative juice in those first 15
minutes than the whole of Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After. Unfortunately, it can't keep
up that momentum.
There's a critical shift right after the aforementioned setpiece, as the creaky wheels of the story
start rolling in and taking over - an unintentional byproduct being that the film loses its energy
and purpose. It goes from creating comedy to mechanically working the characters into a plot.
The original Shrek is an example of how to do both simultaneously. The story there was so
traditional, it was basically a MacGuffin - it served primarily as a vehicle for the film's
neverending stream of parody, pop culture, satire and non-sequitur.
Puss in Boots gets the order wrong. Well, OK, I shouldn't
say "wrong," because there have been plenty of great animated films that focused most of their
attention on the story itself. But in this case, the story itself is, once again, very familiar. There
are no surprises. Which is perfectly fine - there weren't many surprises in the actual story part of
Shrek, either. That's where the comedy came in. The familiar story was the canvas for
Puss in Boots takes no such approach, and neither does it do anything interesting with its story of
betrayal and redemption among fairy-tale heroes. It just glides breezily along, never totally
unpleasant but never especially exciting, either.
Puss is, as you certainly know by now, a smooth-talking ladies' man, a cat without a country, a
drifter, an outlaw with a thirst for danger. He's had his sights set on magic beans for nearly his
entire adult life - magic beans that will give rise to a giant beanstalk and a goose that lays giant
golden eggs. But after another wild (yes, I'm going there) goose chase goes awry, he resigns
himself to the fact that those elusive beans are probably elusive because they do not exist.
As fate would have it, his old chum, his surrogate hermano, Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach
Galifianakis) shows up, years of bad blood between he and Puss having festered since they last
saw one another. They were once inseparable, two orphans in the same town with the same
dream. Until fame took ahold of Puss, leaving Humpty to his own devices and into a life of
crime. Eventually, there was a betrayal - though there is a lingering disagreement over who
In any case, Humpty returns with a mea culpa, having put aside his bottled-up anger,
disappointment and resentment. He offers Puss the chance to join him in finally fulfilling their
shared dream of magic beans and golden eggs. Puss is initially skeptical, but it's the 1-900 voice
and amorous advances of Humpty's sidekick, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek, lusty
even in animated feline form), that convince him to tag along.
Where the story goes from there will be surprising to no one, amusing only in fits and starts and,
quite frankly, a bit lazy. Puss in Boots gets our hopes up early, only to disappoint us later on. I
think I know how Humpty feels.