The spin-off is not a tradition that can boast an illustrious history, existing for the sole purpose of making heaps of easy money off the back of established and popular property with little by way of genuine creative merit to support it. There are exceptions of course, Frasier springs to mind and serves as an excellent example of a spin-off that was worth making. The Shrek series is already one of the five highest grossing movie franchises in history and while the main run of films has drawn sensibly to its close, DreamWorks, reluctant to put their cash cow to sleep have decided to milk it one last time through a different character. There’s a danger that a film about the obvious choice, Donkey, could have got pretty annoying pretty quickly so we can count ourselves lucky that they instead chose Puss, a character in whom we all knew there was a film worth exploring.
Mind you, it can be argued we’ve already had that film in The Mask of Zorro, which, lest we forget served as the inspiration for the character and his casting in the first place. That’s why it was also important that we didn’t get a furry reissue of that film but that’s where the fairytale element comes in. The film draws upon well-worn childhood tales and nursery rhymes for inspiration and weaves a prequel that fills in the back story for Puss without so much as a cameo from anyone else associated with grumpy green ogres.
And it’s only in the frequent sideways references to classic fairytale that Puss in Boots resembles its movie source material, the story unfolds in a more muted, even leisurely fashion with themes of betrayal to get through. But if the film feels just slightly detached from the original animated tetralogy (yeah, quadrilogy is just a word they made up to flog Alien DVDs), it pretty much ignores the 17th century French literary work in which the character’s goal is pretty much just to get his master laid. Instead Puss is on the hunt for some magic beans, a quest which leads him face to face with another athletic feline outlaw in the shape of Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) as well as a familiar egg from his past.
Yes, Humpty Dumpty as played by Zach Galifianakis is involved and after a very long flashback telling of his and Puss’ childhood together in an orphanage they launch into a daring adventure with Kitty to fulfil their childhood dreams of riches. The journey is peppered with the appropriate amounts of swashbuckling, cat jokes, set pieces and character comedy and it’s decent value for that.
But there’s not an awful lot else to distinguish this spin-off as anything more than an unremarkably amusing romp. The narrative is focused rather narrowly on the two main characters and feels quite claustrophobic as a result and it takes time to get where it’s going, dropping apt action and comedy along the way. The result is a story that is never less than entertaining but can’t draw you in emotionally. The one consistent joy is Antonio Banderas’ central vocal performance which is as funny, sexy and charismatic as ever, and gives Puss the vitality that got the film commissioned in the first place.
Crisp animation and fine feline vocals aren’t enough to elevate this caper to the upper-echelons of animation but it’s still a worthwhile spin-off fans will enjoy.