Puss in Boots

The consistently amusing "Puss in Boots" should appease audiences and shareholders alike as the swashbuckling cat leaves his prints all over the fall box office.

Puss in Boots - Antonio Banderas
Kitty Softpaws - Salma Hayek
Humpty Alexander Dumpty - Zach Galifianakis
Jack - Billy Bob Thornton
Jill - Amy Sedaris

Now that the ogre’s tale is over, DreamWorks Animation must find a franchise to fill Shrek’s shoes, and it’s hard to imagine a safer choice than “Puss in Boots,” featuring a character spun off from the very same series. And yet, however crass the motivation for its existence, Puss’ origin story could easily stand on its own — a testament to clever writing on the part of its creative team and an irresistible central performance by Antonio Banderas. The consistently amusing result should appease audiences and shareholders alike as the swashbuckling cat leaves his prints all over the fall box office.

Over the years, critics have carefully scrutinized Disney’s adaptations of beloved fairy tales, often picking apart the slightest variation from Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, et al. When DreamWorks gets its paws on such material, however, we’ve come to expect irreverence and revisionism, and “Puss in Boots” is no different, abandoning any connection to Charles Perrault’s 17th-century fable (whose ogre-outwitting twist explains what Puss was doing in “Shrek 2” to begin with) in favor of a cheeky, Zorro-like lark.

Here we learn that Puss (voiced by Banderas, parlaying his thick Spanish accent into a seductive purr) was an orphan turned outlaw by a misunderstanding from his past. Once the town hero, having earned his boots and the citizens’ respect after saving an old woman from a raging bull, Puss was later chased out of town for his involvement in a local bank robbery. The true culprit was Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), still grumpy after all these years for serving prison time while Puss chased his own tales, a free cat.

Still angry with one another, the former accomplices nevertheless agree to team up once again, scheming to steal three magic beans from Jack and Jill (two hulking and hilariously surly goons voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), then climb the beanstalk to a castle in the clouds, where they can nab the golden goose and repay their debts back home. For Puss, the deciding factor is getting to work with a cat burglar named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who steals his heart by out-maneuvering him in the field, as well as on the dance floor.

So begins an epic quest that somehow manages to thrill without ever taking itself seriously, at least for the first hour or so. Not unlike the original “Shrek,” which put a modern twist on centuries-old folk stories, “Puss in Boots” plays fast and loose with familiar fairy-tale ingredients, to the extent that the Godzilla-like attack by a giant Mother Goose that comprises the toon’s third act doesn’t seem entirely out of place in light of all the zaniness that has come before. Screenwriter Tom Wheeler (working from a story concocted by Brian Lynch, Will Davies and himself) paves over the more egregious leaps in logic by laying the foundation early, so a gag in which Humpty Dumpty’s horse-drawn coach suddenly takes to the skies can be explained by an earlier scene where the young egg is seen experimenting with flying contraptions.

Overall, the writing team seems to have learned a lesson from DreamWorks’ “Shark Tale,” which drowned amid an abundance of frivolous fish puns; with “Puss in Boots,” though cat jokes abound (as do a predictable number of adult-targeted in-jokes), they never overwhelm the central story. Still, much of the character’s charm traces back to the fact that his feline tendencies come out at the most inopportune times. With Puss, the situation has always been that no one would expect such an over-confident Latin lover personality in an otherwise harmless-looking ginger tomcat, and nearly every amusing detail in the character’s feature-length outing derives from that mismatch.

Director Chris Miller (“Shrek the Third”) arguably applies the same strategy to Humpty Dumpty, whose petulant voice and creepy egg-face design run counter to whatever expectations auds may have about the nursery-rhyme victim. Certainly they wouldn’t imagine him as the conniving mastermind capable of hatching a plot as elaborate as this, and yet his true motives merely serve to complicate an otherwise elegant adventure. As is often the case with DreamWorks toons, things spiral out of control toward the end, as if the creators’ confidence in storytelling were shaken by the mistaken assumption that auds demand spectacle. Fortunately, they have the good sense to leave out the rest of the Shrek ensemble (including the ogre himself).

Even so, “Puss in Boots” feels a lot longer than its 90-minute runtime and would have done just fine without its over-the-top finale. Besides, Miller and his team have supplied no shortage of spectacle along the way, using stereoscopic 3D to whisk audiences through gorgeously rendered spaces. Puss’ initial pursuit of Kitty across the town balconies and roofs is a virtuoso use of the technique, as are later sequences, including the characters’ dynamic canyon chase and beanstalk ride. Miller also juices the storytelling with occasional split-screen effects, lending still more style and self-aware humor to the mix.

Puss in Boots


Production: A Paramount release of a DreamWorks Animation presentation. Produced by Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou. Executive producers, Andrew Adamson, Guillermo del Toro, Michelle Raimo Kouyate. Co-executive producer, John H. Williams. Directed by Chris Miller. Screenplay, Tom Wheeler; story, Brian Lynch, Will Davies, Wheeler.

Crew: (Technicolor, widescreen, 3D); editor, Eric Dapkewicz; music, Henry Jackman; production designer, Guillaume Aretos; art director, Christian Schellewald; head of character animation, Fabio Lignini; head of story, Bob Persichetti; character designer, Patrick Mate; supervising sound editor/sound designer (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS), Richard King; re-recording mixers, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer; associate producer, Tom Jacomb; casting, Leslee Feldman. Reviewed at Mann Chinese 6, Los Angeles, Oct. 22, 2011. (In Doha Tribeca Film Festival -- Special Screenings.) MPAA Rating: PG. Run time: 90 MIN.

With: Voices:
Puss in Boots - Antonio Banderas
Kitty Softpaws - Salma Hayek
Humpty Alexander Dumpty - Zach Galifianakis
Jack - Billy Bob Thornton
Jill - Amy Sedaris
With: Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Mike Mitchell.

More Film

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. “Stranger” has been likened to sensual thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content