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Puss in Boots

I must admit I was a bit wary of Puss in Boots, Dreamworks Animation's spin-off of its blockbuster Shrek franchise. After its sparkling 2001 debut, the Shrek saga suffered a steady decline in quality over subsequent installments. While its final entry, 2010's Shrek Forever After, improved slightly over its decidedly mediocre predecessor, but it hardly whetted my appetite for Puss in Boots, which, to my eyes at least, appeared little more than a transparent attempt to further milk a barren brand.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Puss in Boots is a surprising delight, a lively and buoyant romp that all but ignores the stale franchise that spawned it. When we meet him in the film, the dashing rogue Puss (Antonio Banderas) is already an infamous outlaw. In search of his next score, he is lured by a beguiling rival, Kitty Softclaws (Salma Hayek), into an ambitious and risky scheme orchestrated by his former childhood friend, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), to steal magic beans from the murderous bandits Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris).

The story is set in the fictional town of San Ricardo, a world far removed from Shrek's Far Far Away. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any Shrek references whatsoever in the film. The animation style is similar by necessity, but otherwise, Puss in Boots is very much its own animal: briskly paced, gorgeously animated and refreshingly devoid of the gratuitous pop-culture references and crude humor that marked the decline of its forebear. Story is sacrificed for spectacle, but that doesn't detract from the film's charm, much of the credit for which is owed to Banderas' vibrant voice work. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.