Let’s face it. After the dreadfull Shrek Forever After there was not much lower Dreamworks Animation could sink. 2010 was the end of the line for a studio that once had the guts to stand up to Disney, en route paving the way for the success of Pixar (which, ironically, was bought by Disney eventually). And then, let’s stay topical, came a new year. And in 2011 everything was different. Pixar’s Cars 2 was a disappointment (apparently, I have not seen it) and Dreamworks turned out not one, but two decent films.
The first one was Kung Fu Panda 2, which I found amusing and beatifully made. And now there is Puss in Boots, a spin-off of the Shrek series, starring its most enjoyable supporting character. Now, I am not going to suggest that Puss in Boots is anywhere as good as the first two Shrek films. But it looks gorgeous, has enough funny jokes (although one very annoying one too) and it does the job well, as long as the job is “entertaining the kids without boring the parents”.
Animation is really the only genre in which the 3D thing kinda works. Which makes perfect sense, considering that the makers probably use software similar to the stuff used to build the three dimensional worlds of immersive video games. In live action there is still a very strong hint (and often more than a hint, Nova Zembla I’m looking at you) of characters being cardboard cutouts placed a foot in front of the scenery. In five animation films I have not yet seen that problem appear (Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots being the corpus).
The film itself then: Puss in Boots tells the origins story of its titular character. Puss (Antonio Banderas) is but an often kitten when he is taken into a orphanage in which he befriends the egg-headed Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).They grow up together, but Humpty is a bad egg (this joke is often made in the film) and he implicates Puss in his crimes, effectively turning him into an outlaw. Years later they meet again, on a quest to capture the goose with the golden eggs…
The story is pretty tough for the youngest kids, and the film is not suited for younglings under the age of six. However, that does mean that older viewers have something to invest in. Banderas excellent voice work, and the good support he gets from Galifianakis and Salma Hayek is of considerable help to him.
Some of the jokes are drawn out too long. The “bad egg” one being one and a reference to Fight Club being the other. And the really annoying one is the twice repeated blood-boiling, toe-curling “miaow” by a stereotypically queer cat (yes, they’ve managed).
But this is not a film that aims for sophistication. It is a holiday picture. A family friendly ride in the multiplex theme park. You’re not supposed to get out all sick and you don’t: Just pleasantly thrilled and a bit wet. And, together with its 2011 sibling, Puss in Boots saved Dreamworks Animation’s soul.