Puss In Boots (2011)
Took my three-year-old son to see this at the Showcase De Lux. He lapped it up.
Puss In Boots
(Chris Miller, US, 2011)
Me(w)ow! The Shrekiverse heads West to surreal effect, as Puss’ spin-off shows the value of cutting loose from the parent franchise
Logically, Puss In Boots has no reason to be any good. It’s the spin-off to a franchise that, according to consensus, that long been running on empty… and a spin-off that has spent years in development hell, at that. But logic, in this case, needs a kicking. Shrek Forever After was hugely underrated, a near-return to form, and likewise Puss In Boots has a swagger that belies its genesis. As barrel scrapings go, it’s quite tasty.
Possibly, it’s the film’s sheer lack of necessity that becomes its saving grace. Since nobody gives a damn about Shrek any more, there’s no pressure to align with the parent franchise so, unusually, there’s little blatant cashing-on its stable-mate’s name: there isn’t a single Shrek reference that doesn’t directly relate to Puss’ characterisation. Free from franchise bloat, the creative team is making this one for themselves… which means, of course, that the audience benefits more than if we’d been given a focus-grouped, market-tested non-entity.
True, this is an origins story a la every superhero series during the past decade, but it wears its mythology lightly. Puss’ backstory brings the Shrekiverse into new and hitherto untapped possibilities, largely because (and here we get to thank the casting gods) of the deliberate miscasting of Antonio Banderas way back when. The literary Puss in Boots was French, fitting in with the European fairytale setting of the Shrek films… but Banderas’ arrival made Puss more of a Zorro clone, setting up his own film to be a Spaghetti Western which just happens to star a load of cats. Reunited with Salma Hayek, it’s close to being an ultra-surreal remake of Desperado, with Banderas now known as Diablo Cat.
So how do you make a Shrekified Western? The answer is to ignore the fact that you probably shouldn’t, and do it anyway. Director Chris Miller worked on all four Shrek films, so presumably during a decade’s worth of production meetings somebody wondered what the rest of Shrek’s world would be like. Why not? The real world is big enough to house thousands of distinct cultures. Why shouldn’t the fairytale world’s version of Mexico re-imagine Jack And Jill as fuck-ugly bandidos, or Humpty Dumpty as a scheming criminal mastermind?
For its first half, it’s a rollicking adventure, full of slapstick, subliminal gags and Banderas enjoying himself enormously in a performance of purring delight. It’s Tintin with cats, basically, and if you think that sounds weird wait ’til you see the OMG cat who occasionally pops up to look suitably gobsmacked at whatever’s going on. (Yes, it’s an obvious gag, but where Shrek overdid the pop-culture references, this fits neatly into the bizarreness of the whole thing.)
The problems only become apparent when the writers get too clever in their retelling of Jack And The Beanstalk; by introducing some underwhelming twists on the legend, the film suffers from a slack final act. Yes, we get it – you’re bored of convention. But, even in a film about the rivalry between a cat and an egg, it pays to keep a baseline of narrative integrity.