A MILLION ONLINE VIDEOS PROVE two things: cats are cute and cats are funny. When Puss In Boots ticks both those boxes early on, with Antonio Banderas’ cheeky charmer looking more huggable than ever, there’s a sudden fear that our time may be just as well spent watching YouTube for 90 minutes.
“You may know my name. But you do not know... the legend!” Puss has been shouting in trailers for some time now, highlighting the film’s other potential drawback: this is a spin-off from the Shrek franchise. Same litter box, different day? Not entirely.
It’s arguable that a dash of gingerbread would’ve done wonders, but this prequel admirably resists the temptation to fall back on Shrek character cameos. It’s left to Puss himself to pull it all together, and he does it with just enough style to warrant DreamWorks’ fifth trip to its alt-storybook universe.
In some other spot-on voice casting, Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris add to a spaghetti western feel as Jack and Jill, while animator Bob Persichetti, playing a supporting feline, snatches scenes with only one word of dialogue. Meanwhile, reteaming with old pal Banderas for a fifth time, Salma Hayek is rival thief/ love interest Kitty Softpaws.
The plot sees Kitty reunite Puss with his old orphanage partner-incrime Humpty ‘Alexander’ Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis); together, the trio plot to steal Jack and Jill’s magic beans and plunder the golden eggs in the giant’s castle. Does the film always land on its feet?
No. Even at 90 minutes, the story is stretched out like a cat who’s found a warm spot in the sun. Some adult humour will also leave little ones with awkward questions (“It’s for my glaucoma,” Puss says when caught with some catnip).
But if there’s relatively scant reliance on easy toilet humour or pop-culture nods, what laughs remain are mostly medium-sized. And with the dramatic temperature set to lukewarm, Puss’ biggest success lies in the third dimension. Even though its main character is packing a sword, the 3D doesn’t feel the need to repeatedly stab you between the eyes.
Instead, the skilful use of depth of field creates expansive, layered environments And that’s before you count the kind of wild beanstalk ride that’s probably spawned its own theme-park attraction by the time you read this.