Puss In Boots continues to find DreamWorks Animation demonstrating its unquestionable ability to impress, and fill the screen with fast, bright, technically brilliant work. Yet while it proves itself a fun blockbuster, not short on character or entertainment, it also concurrently demonstrates a lesser ability to genuinely surprise.
Set before we first met the title character in Shrek 2, the limelight here is firmly shone on Puss, voiced with charisma and a sense of real fun by Antonio Banderas (and he’s clearly having a ball here).
We don’t learn a great deal more about the character of Puss across the film’s running time, but he’s fun to be in the company of, and he’s animated superbly (it’s hard to recall an animated film as centred around the personality of its lead voice talent since Aladdin). Cats have eyes bursting with character, and that’s not been lost on the considerable animation talent within DreamWorks’ walls.
It all gets off to a lovely start, with a glorious Latin undertone evoked by a bar scene, that’s then subverted a little via a great little gag where we see Puss drinking his milk. Puss In Boots has a few moments like that, where a small touch, or a side character, evokes a smile that the central narrative sometimes fails to do.
Storywise, even though it’s a film that’s not directly attached to the Shrek movies, it’s clearly in the same universe, and so this time, Humpy Dumpty – voiced by Zach Galifianakis – is brought into the story. Turns out that Puss and Humpty were friends when they were younger, but an incident in the past has driven them apart. However, the small matter of some magic beans has them working in tandem, and also provides the grounding for some of the film’s most ambitious moments.
Because what Puss In Boots proves again is that DreamWorks Animation can put together fast, fluid action sequences, the ilk of which lend themselves very strongly to the format.
The problem, for this reviewer at least, was that’s also what it did with its earlier 2011 release, Kung Fu Panda 2, and there’s a sense that Puss In Boots is diluted a little by consequence of the saturation of DreamWorks Animation product. There are moments where you find yourself not only thinking you’ve seen something like this before, but also – and appreciating the different settings for the respective films – that you’ve seen it six months ago, from the same company.
It’s a pity, because Puss In Boots is technically impressive, and a solid, often very entertaining 90 minutes of animated fun. Director Chris Miller delivers a film more satisfying than his last (Shrek The Third), and Henry Jackman’s music is excellent, too. The character design, not least that of Jack and Jill, shows a willingness to stray from convention, and is uniformly strong.
Puss In Boots relies heavily, though, on wit and charm to overcome the fairly straightforward narrative and sense of déjà vu. Fortunately, it delivers exceptionally well in this areas (with no small dose of help from Banderas), and that makes it a straightforward and easy film to recommend. The impact of that, though, is that it makes Puss In Boots a hard film to love, yet alone crave follow-ups for.
DreamWorks Animation has five films lined up across the next two calendar years, and while Puss In Boots proves that it boasts some quite exceptional talent on its payroll, it does ask questions as to whether the firm has the variance of stories to keep such a production pipeline up to the firm’s high standards.
Puss In Boots? It gets away with it, and is worth seeking out. DreamWorks, however, has some sizeable challenges ahead of it.