Puss In Boots is a new animated feature spin-off from the Shrek films, and finds our diminutive feline hero, Puss, on his own adventure. Voices include Antonio Banderas returning as Puss, as well as Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris, and Billy Bob Thornton as the other leads.
Puss (“In Boots!”) is back, and this time he has his own adventure away from Shrek-land. Our hero has been tipped off about the whereabouts of the elusive magic beans, being held by the evil Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, respectively). In order to capture them and grow the legendary stalk that will lead to the goose who lays golden eggs, Puss must join up with accomplices Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek) and his old pal Humpty (Zach Galifianakis). But of course, things aren’t quite that simple, and in his quest to simply complete the mission he unknowingly lands himself in peril with his cohorts.
There are familiar elements from the Shrek films that are certainly carried over. The world is thoroughly mixed in with a mashup of fairy tales, the focus is largely on the non-humans, and the humor often overreaches with stabs at innuendo. It’s a similar formula to what all of modern computer animation is built on. And for the slim majority of the time, Puss In Boots works. But just barely.
It’s interesting that, looking back, the film seems to be more focused on the action-adventure side of things than it is comedy. Sure, the world that the story is set in offers its own absurd humor by default. But beyond that, most scenes largely build up to chases and escapes from peril. The humor often feels like an afterthought, and because of this the pace tends to drag. There is a lot of backstory for the relationship between Puss and Humpty, so much so that their later escapes feel truncated and shallow. The humor could have been helped if they had just given Galifianakis a longer leash to improvise and have fun with Humpty. But here we have an animated comedy where all the leads seem to be playing the straight guy.
The saving grace is that the animation is quite lovely to look at. The detail on Puss and Kitty in particular is exquisite. In suitable contrast, the human characters come off as a bit more crude and blocky, but that’s probably appropriate, as they’re not really the focus of the film. The settings are also simply beautiful, and it’s fun to take in the spectacle of it all. But just don’t focus too much on the story or you’ll be let down.
The picture here is extremely polished. As you’d expect from an all-digital (and all-virtual) production, everything looks immaculate. It’s obvious that the animators spent a sizeable investment of time on the cats in the film, as closeups of Puss especially are rich with detail and feline authenticity. Colors are rich, and all the film’s environments from the desert southwest to the more fantastical cloud city are wonderfully lighted, and show rich black levels in low light scenes. This is a fantastic looking picture.
Likewise, the audio is top notch. The film comes with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, and all of those ones and dots get used. The sound designers really get to have some fun with the sound field, as both effects and music (especially in the case of the dance hall scene) receive detailed placement. Music is given frequent prominence, and both it and the dialogue get balanced perfectly throughout, although a little extra low end could have been given to some of the music cues.
The marquee bonus item is a new short film entitled Puss In Boots: The Three Diablos (HD, 13:05). The story finds Puss still on the run, but hired to recover a valuable ruby. To do so he must team up with three young kittens, who aren’t quite as innocent as they look. Unfortunately, this is such a good short that it really outshines and points out the flaws in the feature. It’s much funnier, much faster-paced, and has a warm playfulness that is largely missing from the main film. It’s too bad that it is just a short, as the thirteen minutes go by quickly and very enjoyably.
There are two in-movie bonus options available. The first is “The Animator’s Corner,” which is a picture-in-picture track that plays throughout. It’s a rather dense track, packed with interviews, commentary on scenes and early sketch art and renderings. There is also a “Trivia Track” option, which is a popup feature with text tidbits throughout the film. There is also a section of deleted scenes (HD, 7:27) which are storyboard renderings, but with introductions on why the particular plot points were ultimately left out.
“Purrrfect Pairing: The Voices Behind The Legends” (HD, 9:21) is a collection of interview footage with the actors playing the leads. “Kitten To Cat” (HD, 12:00) lets the filmmakers explain the process of giving Puss his own film, and the challenges of developing his overall storyline. “Glitter Box Dance Off” (HD, 5:01) shows the film’s choreographer teaching a couple of young dancers some of the moves used in the main dance sequence of the film. “Klepto Kitty” (HD, 3:42) is a thankfully brief video about a real life cat who steals things from the neighborhood. The owners, of course, think this is just adorable.
There are several games in the bonus section. “A Dreamworks Fairytale” lets you select a story setting and a few word options, and then it fills in the new alternate fairytale for you, mad-lib style. “Puss’ Paw Pouncing Challenge” lets you use your remote to hit beams of light on the screen. “Kitty Keyboard” isn’t necessarily a game, but it lets you listen to a few short nursery rhyme themes with a keyboard that only plays cat’s meows. “Kitty Strikes Again” lets you find what’s different between sets of two images. Honestly, none of the game options are very fun, and other than padding the bonus section with “more”, it’s hard to know why they’re there.
A DVD is also included, which has no bonus items.
Puss In Boots is a reasonably fun escape, and a beautiful one at that. But ultimately it feels lacking, and doesn’t stack up as well as either its Shrek forebears, or other similar Pixar or Dreamworks fare. But neither is it bad. It’s just a light escape that should entertain kids, adults and animation fans at least once. Just don’t look for it to have a ton of repeat value, as the story and pacing wear thin pretty quick.