This spin-off or prequel to the Shrek series puts some surprising fun back in swashbuckling for family audiences filled with the rhythms of snappy guitars and castanets.
CGI-animated Puss In Boots stars Antonio Banderas (in the title role), Salma Hayek, and Zach Galifianakis, and Banderas' Puss isn't the chubby kitty he was when last seen in Shrek Forever After. No references to anything connected to the lovable green ogre in a rollicking, fairly clever tale that stands on its own. And, one that is lushly rendered with visuals that make good use of the always in-demand 3D format.
Helmer Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) and his scribes don't go the delightfully derisive fractured fairy tale route in the formative years of the sword-wielding lothario who knows how to use his "big sad kitty eyes."
Long before this scheming, smart cat would be on the lam, he grew up in an orphanage with Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis); their friendship would take a downturn prior to his attempt of wrestling magical beans from the wickedly seedy married couple Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).
With some well-staged set pieces and wit that adds up to a fast-paced adventure (which makes one appreciate the original Shrek even more) there's nice screen sparks between Banderas and Hayek's mysterious and alluring Kitty Softpaws. Especially during a tangolike battle on the dance floor. The clandestine female teams up with Puss and Humpty as the latter two gradually get back in better graces with one another. Galifianakis may not give Dumpty the same comedic spice that Donkey had through Eddie Murphy, but still creates a pretty spritely sidekick.
Banderas is given a chance to show off for the most part an irresistible charisma amidst some viable animated characters (yes, the humans appear to be a bit more awkward). When it comes to all the finagling around the goose that laid the golden egg, a trip up the beanstalk is required and a humungous protective, upset mother shakes up a village (that may remind older viewers of a similarly white creature stomping through the Big Apple in Ghostbusters).
With all the misunderstanding and bickering in amusement park stride, Puss In Boots has enough charm and wit for a romp sharpened to begin a freewheeling series all its own.