From the director of Shrek The Third (which is the main reason why I avoided this film from the outset back in 2011), Puss In Boots explores the adventures of the titular character before his debut in Shrek 2. It was executive produced by Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro (who is working on a new Silent Hill game for PlayStation 4), which I find just a really fascinating discovery. The movie was on TV over the seasonal period and that's why I found myself watching it — and it is surprisingly good.
Surprisingly, to me anyway, because Shrek The Third is one of those movies that just makes me want to fall asleep. Ugly, boring characters and spot-the-celebrity-cameo moments make the film an absolute slog and the worst of the entire quadrilogy. Being worst of the bunch isn't difficult though, because the other three movies are simply outstanding.
I have a lot of love for the Shrek films, and Puss In Boots reminded me why this is the case. I've always admired how the stories in the "Far Far Away" universe adapt well-known fables and borrow from the darker elements they previously had, while making those twinges of hideousness still acceptable for young audiences.
Puss In Boots is a lot less dark, though. While the movie still borrows and tweaks famous fables and fairytales, it does seem to approach a lot of them from a more lighthearted angle. The decision to turn Jack and Jill into lying, murdering ex-convicts was a fantastic one, I must say, and it helped to place where and when certain fables happen in the entire "Far Far Away" canon — not that anybody with a sane mind would try to figure the timeline out.
The plot of the movie focuses on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, with elements of Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and of course, the Puss in Boots. It establishes that Puss was an orphan raised by a kind-hearted woman, and was brought up to be good despite the bad influences of his friend and associate, Dumpty.
Though Puss had changed, and became a hero to the people of his hometown San Ricardo, Dumpty dragged Puss back into a life of crime by robbing the bank and using Puss as the getaway driver. After this, the two were exiled — Puss had brought shame to the boots and hat that he wore as a hero, and Dumpty was left behind by Puss to be captured and slung into jail.
I really, REALLY wish he wasn't making that face.
Many years on, Puss still has a hard time finding his place and purpose. He steals the Magic Beans that, legend has it, will grow a massive beanstalk up to a cloudland where a giant guards golden eggs. The beans are then stolen from him by Kitty Softpaws, perhaps the movie's most well-written original character, who also serves as the clichéd love interest and femme fatale that you'd expect to see in a movie about the Puss In Boots character.
Kitty is expectedly working for Humpty, and after some coaxing Puss decides to work with Humpty and Kitty not for the money, and not because Dumpty used to be his friend, but only because the money he could make may clear his debt to San Ricardo.
The voice-acting is spot on in Puss In Boots. In any Shrek movie (especially that dreadful third one) the voice of Mike Myers turns into a grotesque caricature, it just doesn't keep up for the whole length of the film. Puss, played by Antonio Banderas, holds up exceptionally well over the course of this theatrical feature. The other main character voices are also very good, both Kitty and Dumpty come off as genuine, which is important given some of the events later in the film, and how those characters deal with what happens.
While the characters themselves look kind of rubbish, and unbelievable to my eyes, the environments are astounding. An incredible level of detail in every scene really helps to paint the world of Puss In Boots as tangible and real — a feat not so easy when dealing with a fantasy world. From my experience working with 3D, it is very hard to create authentic-looking environment textures, so kudos to Dreamworks for that.
The scene choreography is sublime, particularly the "Dance Fight" between Kitty and Puss, and the conflict between the "Great Terror" and San Ricardo are beautifully shot and animated. Every effort has been made to create an authentic and feasible adventure, certainly not a bad result for a movie that shipped off 30% of the film to be completed in India by the DreamWorks TV Shows crew.
Clocking in at an hour and a half, this is one of those movies that runs as long as it needs to. It doesn't outstay its welcome, and the pace holds up throughout. I was pleasantly surprised by that, as once again, I have to point out that Shrek The Third is a tired, slow moving slog.
In the way that Puss In Boots seeks to repair his broken honour, the movie itself repairs the broken honour caused by Shrek The Third. The film certainly surpassed my expectations.
...but wait! There's one more!