There seems to be two approaches competing against each other in Puss in Boots. On the one hand, it is an extension of the Shrek universe, which the Puss character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) originally hailed from in part two of the franchise. Puss interacts with other nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters such as estranged childhood friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and outlaws Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), while on a quest to find the goose that lays the golden eggs at the top of the giant beanstalk. On the other hand, like Rango (2011) the film adopts the iconography of the western, but less overt in its referencing and more aimed at family audiences. Although, the casting of Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, the film’s co-star, does evoke Robert Rodriguez’s wonderful 1995 spaghetti western homage Desperado, which starred Banderas and Hayek. Puss is also clearly a variation on the Zorro character, played in recent films by Banderas.
The merging of a fairy tale world with a cats-in-a-western world means that the universe that Puss in Boots is situated in never quite feels right. It’s inhabited by humans, self-aware cats like Puss and Kitty, regular cats and characters such as Humpty who is literally a large walking and talking egg. While films like the Shrek series and Rango felt self-contained with their own sense of internal logic, Puss in Boots does not. As a result, while it’s a better film than the Shrek sequels, it doesn’t come close to the inventiveness contained within the narrative cohesion of the original Shrek (2001) or Rango. It also falls far short of the other major 2011 computer generated animation, animal adventure film, Kung Fu Panda 2.
Despite being an uneven film, there is still much to like about Puss in Boots especially when the film is incorporating cat characteristics with that of an outlaw, with Puss inadvertently chasing after a torch light or using his cuteness like it is the Force. Banderas and Hayek clearly have a lot of fun channelling their cool and sexy action hero personas from Desperado onto Puss and Kitty. Surprisingly Puss in Boots doesn’t mine the potential for cat gags to nearly the extent that it could have.
Finishing with a Godzilla-style sequence that’s hilariously absurd and exciting, Puss in Boots contains an unexpectedly dark redemption message, which is then quickly glossed over. It’s another aspect of the film that is interesting as an isolated moment, but feels slightly perplexing when included as part of the whole film. Nevertheless, for a film with many stylistic, thematic and tonal inconsistencies it is still good fun. The use of first person cinematography in many of the action sequences uses its 3D impressively and the film contains some excellent self-aware split-screen gags.