"Puss in Boots" Blu-ray Doesn't Try Hard Enough
I have little affection for DreamWorks’ Shrek franchise, but the one thing about them that I did like was Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots character. Perhaps it was the oddball charm of the character or just an innate sense of optimism trying to find something of value in an otherwise joyless experience, but that affection did mean that I was cautiously curious about Puss in Boots, the spin-off feature film released last year and now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, while I can say that I enjoyed the movie far more than anything else Shrek-related I’ve ever seen, this is only an elevation from the completely insufferable to the merely tolerable. A non-trivial step up, to be sure, but nowhere near enough to generate much more than a lukewarm response.
Part of the problem with Puss in Boots begins when attempting to summarize this origin story/heist/romance/action/comedy: the movie just seems unable to commit fully to any one genre or tone, and attempts to compensate for that lack of commitment by doing all of them half-heartedly. By the time Puss in Boots is done, we’ve seen the origin story of Puss and his trademark footwear; the evolution of his relationship to Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) from friends to foes to reluctant friends to foes to friends; a lackluster romance between Puss and Humpty’s cat burglar partner, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek); not one but two big heist scenes involving the trio; and a big action climax as the consequences of those heists come together explosively. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t develop any of them too deeply before it’s off and jogging in a totally different direction. The end result feels too focus-grouped and committee-written to add up to even just the sum of its parts.
The individual parts aren’t even executed with any unusual flair, making Puss in Boots a movie feel like the equivalent of a Chinese/Italian/Swahili all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant: the vast variety and plentiful quantity fail to compensate for the fact that the diffuse menu means none of it is done particularly well done. Neither heist is exciting or tangled enough for a good heist scene. There is no chemistry between Puss and Kitty, making their romantic flirtations feel like an exercise in going through the motions. The antagonism between Humpty and Puss feels extremely fabricated and artificial, making the payoff at the end of the film feel unearned. It also takes way, way too long to explain the antagonism between them when the explanation is really almost entirely unnecessary. Like MegaMind, Puss in Boots is a bit too jokey to be taken seriously but too serious to make a good comedy. The only scene that manages to balance those two is a dance fight early in the film, but the attempt to combine the serious and the ridiculous at the climax of the film just generates bafflement rather than laughs or thrills. At least the incessant pop culture-driven humor of the Shrek films has been dumped, and the celebrity voice casting is just extra spice instead of the main course. Antonio Banderas seems to be having a lot of fun as Puss, and all the other major cast members fit their roles nicely and get non-trivial screen time.
One positive thing I can say about them film is that it looks and sounds great, especially in its presentation on Blu-ray (though I’m not equipped to comment on many of the theatrical reviews raving about the use of 3-D). It’s the expected panoply of tech specs (1080p image, 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack, yadda yadda yadda), and DreamWorks Animation’s home video releases have never stinted on quality in those regards, at least. A new bonus short film is included, “The Three Diablos,” in which three kittens become a thorn in Puss in Boots’ side; it’s nothing to write home about. There are also a healthy selection of bonus features on the disc, anchored by the feature-length “Animator’s Corner” that is a picture-in-picture commentary track that pulls in numerous members of the cast and crew along with production artwork and storyboard sequences. A feature length trivia track mixes some interesting information with the same trivial silliness that has appeared in other trivia tracks (in this one, it’s a “Meow Meter” that counts the feline utterances). Three different featurettes are also included: one spotlighting the voice actors, one following the evolution of Puss in Boots from Shrek 2 to this movie, and one starring the choreographer of the movie walking us through the complex steps in the dance fight sequence. One puzzling addition is a short featurette on a real-life thieving cat, which is embarrassingly dumb. A handful of deleted scenes are presented in animatic format; none are really worth the time. The same is true of the assorted interactive features on the disc. The second disc on this set is a standard-definition DVD of the film and a digital copy.
The worst thing about Puss in Boots isn’t that it’s a bad movie, but that it’s OK with being just an OK movie. It’s only aspirations are technical, and while those technical achievements are quite impressive, they’re mated to a movie that is strictly paint-by-numbers. There are seeds of a good movie in here, but Puss in Boots is such an underperformer that the film’s potential is never even remotely actualized.