Saturday 10 December 2011

Puss in Boots Review - Prepare to be Mewowed

Puss in Boots is a film that I was very pensive about going in. In that, Shrek 1, and indeed Shrek 2 (in which Puss was introduced), were absolutely brilliant- fun, heartfelt, family adventures -, however, Shrek 3 was awful. It still remains one of the few films that I genuinely hate. It angered and annoyed me that from there they decided to make yet another Shrek film, although at least the 'final chapter' was decent enough; it was indeed rather good. However, DreamWorks had really been pushing it and came close, on a number of times, to ruining the franchise for me, so, I was far from pleased when I heard that DreamWorks were planning a spin-off, my immediate reaction was: just let it die. I was even less pleased when I heard that Chris Miller, co-director of Shrek the Third, was directing the film; he had a hell of a lot of redeeming to do. Fortunately, these fears were allayed during the first five minutes of Puss in Boots, as it was a pretty darn great film.

Puss in Boots is a prequel spin-off to the Shrek franchise which, whilst critically lacking in recent years, still remains one of the most popular ones around, currently ranking as the fifth highest franchise of all time, at over $3 billion, so, despite my trepidations, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious to see Puss in Boots. I didn't go in with sky high expectations, although, I had heard very good things about it; reviews were mostly positive and it currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82%, which is pretty respectable. Puss in Boots was, not only far better than I was expecting, but far better than I could've dreamed of, it restored by faith in the Shrek franchise (which'll hopefully be over now - despite Puss in Boots being great, I've seen more than enough from DreamWorks's main franchise) and gave even more fuel to the fire that has been burning strong at DreamWorks over the past few years, in that they are getting more and more consistently impressive by the year. Puss in Boots may not be as deep, profound or original as the likes of How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda 2, but it's charming, it's witty, it's warm and fun and it's just generally a great film.

To start with the basics - yet the building blocks of any great, or indeed good, film -, the story, the story of Puss in Boots was great. Puss in Boots is an action, adventure family film, that sees the audience taken through a series of different (and stunningly animated) locales and cities. The film is made up of hilarious jokes and slapstick, high octane, exciting, thrilling battles and chases and a surprising amount of tenderness and emotion. Rather than just riding Shrek's coattails, Puss in Boots does its own thing; it doesn't feel like a Shrek film (which, to be honest, is somewhat of a good thing), it feels like an animated Zorro film, it may unoriginal, but it's certainly fun.

Puss in Boots seeks to establish a "legendary" back story for the beloved character, in which we see a young, roguish, outlaw Puss at large and being as suave and brash as ever. But not all is perfect, and Puss is far from a 1 dimensional character, as we soon hear of Puss's long, heartfelt and sad past with Humpty Dumpty (yes, at first glance, it is rather hard to take a film seriously when one of its emotional crutches is named after a nursery rhyme). Yet Puss is soon roped in by Humpty and the enigmatic temptress, Kitty Softpaws, to help achieve his lifelong dream of finding the magic beans and achieving fame and fortune. From here we are taken on an epic journey as the three embark into and across deserts to find the beans and claim their destiny; fraught with dangers, battles with the villainous, and amazingly entertaining, Jack and Jill, and more story and character development than a lot of older DreamWorks films, the story is a delight to watch unravel.

The story may seem a tad trite and unoriginal in places - in some of the middle scenes, it reminded me heavily of a cross between Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Zorro and Rango -, drawing from a lot of major action/adventure films. However, Puss in Boots does it with such charm and humour that you won't mind, you'll just enjoy the ride. It's very, very funny (more so than a lot of films I've seen recently), one particularly crude guilty pleasure of mine was the "show him the golden eggs" gag, it was silly and it was rude, but it was giddily hilarious - which is a pretty good summary of the film to be honest, in a good way. It's got a reasonably complex story, that's populated by a series of new, likeable characters.

One of the concerns with the making of Puss in Boots will doubtless have been DreamWorks having to create a whole new set of characters, since the film doesn't overlap with Shrek at all, that could stand against the cast of Shrek in comparisons. Fortunately, the new ensemble of characters in Puss in Boots is wonderful. Puss, thrust into the limelight, is great; charming, funny and so cool. In terms of the actual new characters though, Humpty Dumpty was brilliant, it's hard to describe his role in the film without ruining the film, but he's such a great, complex character; a devilish enigma. He's also pretty damn funny himself too, he's definitely one of DreamWorks's more considered characters. Kitty Softpaws is, likewise, great, she has an interesting, if slightly untouched on, back story, that feeds her cheeky, rebellious personality very well; she's a nice leading lady for Puss and so much more than the generic female outlaw that we see in so many films, she's actually got some substance to her and is very fun to watch. Finally, in terms of characters, I just need to mention Jack and Jill. They were brilliant. The villainous married duo are nasty bruisers, yet are devilishly funny and are constantly discussing the prospects of having children, they're a delight in the film, not just as comic relief, but as characters in general. All in all, the cats at the centre of the film were brilliant and were supported by a wonderful cast of characters - the cats were anthropamorphised so well, allowing for genuine emotion, but still remained distinctly feline, allowing for genuine comedy; the best of both worlds.

Another factor to count in Puss in Boots's favour here is the brilliant voice cast. DreamWorks are notable for always having an all-star, brilliant voice cast (just look at Shrek, upon which this is a spin-off of, for example), and Puss in Boots is another prime example of that. In addition to Antonio Banderas turning in a memorable performance as the eponymous Puss in Boots, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis turn in brilliant renditions of Kitty Softpaws and Humpty Dumpty respectively. The voice cast just adds a final bit of polish to a great film.

I also feel I need to give particular kudos to DreamWorks for producing the two cutest characters of the year, Baby Po and Baby Puss. They were just adorable.

But, this wasn't a perfect film, as previously said, it felt a little unoriginal and recycled in that most of the plot points, a lot of the action scenes and large portions of the gags felt like I've seen them before, some not even just in other films, but rather just in other DreamWorks films! So, you won't really be surprised by any of the film's story - although there are a few great little twists and turns - but you'll enjoy it nonetheless. Also, I feel I must speak out against a large portion of the jokes and references, as there was a little too much of the trademark DreamWorks 'egde' on display here, there were too many sex jokes and the like. I get the idea of edge, as it makes the film interesting for the parents, but to me it just makes it seem pandering, as if the film couldn't function otherwise, and, in this case, just felt inappropriate, particularly for its U rating.

Despite these quibbles, I loved Puss in Boots. It was a fun, charming, witty, clever, wonderfully funny and surprisingly thoughtful and poignant film that is definitely worth a watch this festive season. It also worked somewhat to redeem Chris Miller in my eyes after Shrek the Third. It's one of DreamWorks's finer animated films - not on par with Kung Fu Panda 2 (in terms of this year), but a great film nonetheless.


P.S. I feel I have to say this: DreamWorks, please don't make a sequel.

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