I initially came into Puss in Boots not expecting much, but I still was a bit worried. Although DreamWorks Animation was on my shit list for a long time, these last few years have seen a marked improvement, with decent animated flicks like the Kung Fu Panda movies and How to Train Your Dragon. I didn't want to see them backtrack with another vacuous, pop-reference fest starring one of the characters from the Shrek movies.
I was relieved to find Puss in Boots to be entertaining even though, much like the Shrek movies before it, its anarchic, anachronistic attitude can be off-putting. The movie is basically an origin tale for the title character, voiced by Antonio Banderas, a man who can't turn off the charisma even when you don't see his face. This swashbuckling feline outlaw became a member of Shrek's crew in the second movie, not to mention the only character in that whole series who didn't become a grating pain in the ass in later installments.
Puss in Boots is a weird mash-up of fairytale lore and spaghetti Western, as Puss hooks back up with former-blood-brother-turned-sworn-enemy Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) in an effort to steal magic beans from murderous criminals Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Raleigh girl Amy Sedaris, both getting all cornpone with it). This is so they can plant the beans, which sprout into a giant beanstalk leading to a castle in the sky which houses a goose who lays golden eggs.
Needless to say, Puss in Boots has its insouciant tongue planted in its cheek. Hell, the movie is practically a cartoon version of the desperado movies Banderas has done with Robert Rodriguez. Banderas even is reunited with Salma Hayek, who was his love interest in those movies, as she voices a soft-pawed bandit who aids Puss and Humpty Dumpty in their endeavor.
Puss in Boots may not achieve the same level of sophisticated, introspective storytelling that Kung Fu Panda 2 wowed me with earlier this year, but it doesn't rely on annoying pop references or scenes of shameless schmaltz. Credit is probably due to executive producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), who also did consulting work on that second Kung Fu Panda movie. Puss in Boots keeps its narrative and visuals fresh and intriguing, even when you find yourself thinking, "Wait a minute, I'm being entertained by a movie about a damn talking, sword-fighting cat!"