I think it was shortly after the release of Shrek 2 that I heard of the possibility of there being a standalone movie based on Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas). I was thrilled at the time, in large part because the first two Shrek films were really good, and because Puss in Boots was a pretty amazing character. Then years passed and my enthusiasm waned. The main Shrek flicks were getting worse, and Puss was becoming less interesting the more we saw of him. But Puss in Boots was still in development, and, after almost a decade of production, has been released for us to see.

Maybe it’s because such a long time was taken, or perhaps it’s because it was started back when the franchise was still good, but Puss in Boots ends up being the best Shrek film since the second. Granted, that’s not too large of an accomplishment, but it’s still worth mentioning. The charm is back, the initial inverting of fairy tale tropes has returned, and Puss continues to be a character worth watching. I actually had fun while watching this film, even if it’s still doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first two Shreks.

The plot revolves around Puss’ quest to get the magic beans from “Jack and the Beanstalk.” These beans begin the film in the hands of the murderous Jack & Jill, although Puss is sure that he can snatch them. He’s interrupted by another cat, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and both attempts end up being foiled in the process. The two eventually team up together, along with one of Puss’ old friends turned frenemy, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).

There’s a rather long and tragic back story given for Puss and his falling out with Humpty, but suffice to say that each one thinks the other betrayed him, and they haven’t seen each other in years as a result. They’re teaming up not by choice, but out of necessity. But there’s something about Humpty’s grin that will make you a little uneasy. Almost like he wants to scramble Puss at the most convenient moment. Things aren’t too sunny up inside that shell of his. Maybe the time he spent in prison fried his brain. I’ll stop now.

So, we’re off on a quest involving this cast of characters, each of whom brings something to the team. Puss is the best fighter, Kitty is the best thief, and Humpty is the brains. Their goal is to steal the Goldon Goose from the giant’s castle, bring it back down to the surface of the Earth, and then live a life of luxury for their remaining days. It’s a good plan, to be sure, and it provides us with a familiar movie structure that’s easy enough for anyone to follow along with.

Like the first couple of Shrek films, the dialogue contains enough references that adults deciding to watch this movie will catch, but it remains family friendly enough so that kids can see it, too. You watch this film and understand references to a ton of other films, while kids will think it feels fresh and will enjoy it for what it is. The overload of pop culture references might be too much for some people, but I didn’t mind it this time around. Everything’s just funnier coming from cats.

And funny is about the level that the film aims for. Much of the action is played off as humorous, and if you’re not laughing, Puss in Boots isn’t succeeding. I did laugh quite a lot, partially because Puss is just so adorable that you’ll laugh at pretty much anything he does, but also because the script is smart and well-written. The film goes back to Shrek’s roots, which helps it become funny. I don’t want to ruin any of the jokes for you, but you should have a good time while you’re watching it, even if you’re too young to get most of the references (or too old, for that matter).

The film’s problems come primarily from just how familiar it feels overall. You’ve seen this movie before, just not with cute cats and other fairy tale creatures playing the roles normally designated for your average action hero and villain. It freshens things up a bit, but not enough to stop it from feeling very clichéd and too predictable. I don’t think anyone will be surprised at a late-game character turnaround, for instance.

I also didn’t really feel like Puss in Boots tied in well with the other Shrek movies. At the beginning of Shrek 2, Puss is presented as an ogre killer, and only tags along with the ogre after having his life saved. At the end of Puss in Boots, well, he’s not an ogre killer, that’s for sure. How did he get that reputation? That’s the kind of film I’d like to see. And I’m sure there aren’t a lot of movies about ogre killing out there, so it would feel more fresh, too.

Puss in Boots is still a success, in large part because, despite what I previously thought, I’m not tired of the Zorro cat just yet. Maybe if they make a sequel I will, but for now, I’m content sitting here and laughing at his antics. The new characters help freshen things up from the stale cast of the last couple of Shrek movies, and it’s pretty funny for people of all ages. It’s the best movie of the franchise since the second, and at this point, I wouldn’t even be upset if they made another one.

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