The Shrek franchise drove itself into the ground after three sequels, so perhaps the only way to go forward was a spin-off. And it’s true that one of the best things about Puss in Boots – the fifth film in the franchise – is that it never feels like a Shrek movie. The film follows the feline character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) in a stand-alone adventure. But even though it’s not beating you over the head with pop-culture references, it does feel like is something that was originally meant to be a direct to video title.

The Players:

The Plot:

Fighter and lover Puss in Boots (Banderas) is a wanted cat that’s great with the ladies. He’s drawn to rob Jack and Jill (Thorton, Sedaris) because they have magical beans, but while on the job he runs into Kitty Softpaws (Hayek), and chases after her once they enter into a dance fight/seduction. It turns out she’s been working with Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis), and Puss and Humpty grew up together and have a complicated history. The three team up to steal the beans to eventually get the goose that lays golden eggs.

The Good:

  • Kitty!: Cats are cute, and the film takes full advantage of having felines as its leads. The highlight of cuteness might be the cat bar dance fight, but if you’re a cat person, this plays to those strengths.
  • Occasional Wit: Fortunately this film doesn’t play on the pop culture references of previous Shrek films, and so it not only works as a stand-alone movie, it doesn’t feel as of the moment. Though – as a whole – it’s a little leaden as a narrative, there are moments when the filmmakers use the wide screen and 3-D for great comic effect. There’s also a great aside with Jack wanting to be a father and trying to prove that to his wife. It’s a nice silly running joke.
  • Kids Film: You’ve got charming leads, cartoon animals, and a brief running time. This may not be Pixar-level work, but it’s also neither painful or obnoxious, which many popular kids films are. It’s also got a reasonably respectable moral about redemption and all that, so on those standards the film is successful.

The Bad

  • Back Story: The film pauses and mocks that Puss must explain at great length how he and Humpty Dumpty grew up together. It’s a long section of the movie that shows how the two became friends and then how things went bad. Sequences like this slow a movie to a crawl and are predictable to boot – we know how it’s going to end up. It’s just boring storytelling.
  • Plotting: Humpty Dumpty’s plan is convoluted, and the end involves a change of heart, but it’s mostly nonsense that moves the narrative forward. When films like this have no real stakes or interesting reasons or emotional pull to their reveals it just makes everything feel like plate spinning, which is really what gives this that direct to video feel. Ultimately the main goal with a fourth sequel to a Shrek movie is going to be “making money,” but this feels a little too driven by that.

Overall:

This is passable children’s entertainment in an era marked by spectacular kids films. In no way is it terrible, but it’s also a film where Billy Bob Thorton manages to be funnier than Zach Galifianakis because the latter serves mostly as a plot point.

Rating: 6.5/10

Puss in Boots opens October 28.

Photos:

Trailer:

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