It has been apparent since he made his first appearance in "Shrek 2" that Mr. Puss in Boots was a stand out character and it was almost inevitable he would not claim his own feature. Well, that time has come and Puss has arrived in fine feline form as his usual suave, adventure savvy-self. Antonio Banderas still infuses the role with his Zorro-like attitude and all-around characterization of a kitten too cute for its own good. The real triumph of "Puss in Boots" though is that this great, but small aspect of the larger "Shrek" films did not stretch itself thin or become a one note gag that fell short in carrying the weight of his own movie on his shoulders. That this isn't much like the aforementioned series doesn't hurt either. While the great animation looks the same, "Puss in Boots" has a completely different tone going for it. This isn't the satirical, pop-culture referencing adventure that the green ogre populates, no, this is in fact a more straightforward adventure film that often has us chuckling, but not laughing out loud. In short, Puss in Boots can still be called the cat's meow.

Puss (Antonio Banderas) meets Kitty Softpaws (Salma
Hayek) for the first time.
In telling this kind of action/adventure film the plot sticks to the standards of that genre pretty closely. Puss, a cat on the run from the law is trying to set right his name in his hometown after being set up and accused of robbing the local bank. We learn all of this through a deeply detailed reflection in which Puss tells of his younger years and how he was adopted and taken in by a lovely lady who also had taken in a lonesome egg named Humpty. Yes, that Humpty the Dumpty who here is voiced by the wonderfully charismatic Zach Galifianakis. Humpty and Puss used to be the best of friends, considering each other brothers even, until the day Puss became a hero and Humpty became jealous. This all results in some backstabbing where we learn Humpty is indeed the one who set Puss on the outlaw path (sorry if you consider that spoiler worthy). Since their early beginnings though, Humpty has masterminded ways of getting the magical beans and with Puss as his partner, they could scale the beanstalk and capture the goose who lays the golden eggs. These story lines, using that same incorporation of famous fairy tale characters for effect as the "Shrek" series works the same here as an older, scruffy looking Jack and Jill (Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton) are enlisted as our films back up baddies. It is the troubled friendship between Puss and Humpty though that is the real centerpiece of the film and provides the most complex story for it to explore.

"Pray for mercy from..."
The other main addition to Puss's origin tale is Kitty Softpaws, a female feline who will steal you clean before you even realize she is there. Salma Hayek, re-teaming with Banderas yet again, brings as much as she can to the most underdeveloped character on the screen as she and Puss begin the spark of a romance, but while we always question her allegiance we never feel as if we really know Kitty Softpaws as much as we do Puss. We like her okay, but we aren't sure if she's the one for Puss. At least, that's how I felt and it also kind of sums up my feelings about the entire film. Puss is a coveted character we all love and feel a certain kind of claim over. In a way we feel we know this character better than any of those on the screen do, that is what a good job the makers of the second "Shrek" did in developing this sidekick that could rival even Eddie Murphy's donkey. If Puss is going to get his own movie, it better be a dang good movie and if they are going to give him a gal to fall for, she better be just as impressive a character as he. She needs to leave as great an impression as he has. This just doesn't ring true as we watch Puss ride off into the sunset just before the credits roll. Instead, we feel content and satisfied, but not overjoyed with the results that ultimately didn't do more than pass the time.

Puss and childhood friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach
Galifianakis) search for the magic beans.
The flawed Humpty moves the story along while much of everything else that is going on feels unnecessary and underdeveloped. But the bond, the back story, and the genuine interaction between Puss and Humpty raises the quality level to that of what Dreamworks has been producing recently with "How to Train Your Dragon" and the "Kung fu Panda" series. As odd as it may sound, we as an audience become genuinely invested in a friendship between a cat and an egg and that is the films saving grace. It is not a film that justifies the greatness the character of Puss in Boots deserves but overall it is an enjoyable, family friendly film (still, the opening scene and not so subtle sex and drug jokes throughout had me rolling) that is more than worthy of your attention if you fell in love with Puss when he first flashed those cute green eyes at you years ago. The makers were smart enough not to take away from the character at the heart and title of this project, but next time let's keep Puss the star while providing him a worthy adventure we can really get excited about.

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