I'm an odd fan of the movies set in the 'Shrek' universe. The way I see it, the original 'Shrek' is an okay family flick. Making creative use of fairytales, it's good but not great. 'Shrek 2,' however, is absolutely hilarious, the best of the franchise. Following it, 'Shrek the Third' is downright awful and completely unwatchable. And 'Shrek Forever After' is on the same level as the original - nothing to write home about. The franchise heads into dangerous spin-off territory with 'Puss in Boots' – and it honestly couldn’t have been done any better.
From the director of the third 'Shrek' and the collective writers of that film, 'Hop,' 'American Pie 2' and 'The Cape,' how could this happen? How could a spin-off of a nearly-dead franchise be so good? Well, just as Warner Bros. has hired Christopher Nolan to be the overseeing "godfather" to the D.C. comic book movies, DreamWorks has employed Guillermo del Toro to keep a watchful eye on all things animated, even giving him the power to re-author screenplays as needed. I give him credit for both 'Kung Fu Panda 2' and 'Puss in Boots' being such strong sequels/spin-offs.
'Puss in Boots' is an origin story - of sorts - for the legendary outlaw feline. It plays out like an animated spaghetti western set in a world with scattered fairytales. The 'Shrek' movies offered very little insight into Puss' backstory, so the sky is the limit with what they can do from here. When the movie starts, Puss is already a wanted bandit, but doors to understanding his past are opened when he learns what outlaws Jack and Jill have in their possession – magic beans. We don't yet understand why these are important to Puss, all we know is that he needs them to repay an old debt.
When Puss breaks into Jack and Jill's hotel room, he quickly learns that, "holy frijoles, they do exist." While trying to steal them, his cover is blown by another burgling cat dressed in a masked Batman-like suit. What follows has the potential to cause 'Puss in Boots' to come to a screeching halt – the obligatory dance sequence – but it pulls a nice trick out of its hat and turns it into a memorable sequence. Puss follows his new enemy into an underground cat club called the Glitter Box. Just as he's about to engage the mystery cat in swordplay, he learns that it's Dance Fight Night only, and the two bust out into a traditional Spanish dance-off. As lame as it sounds and as lame as you'd expect it to be, the dance-off is hilarious.
After the dance-off, we learn who this mystery cat is and who she's working for. Her name is Kitty Softpaws and she's in cahoots with Humpty Alexander Dumpty, an important figure in Puss' past. Cue the origin-exposing flashback. In it, Puss describes his upbringing at an orphanage where his only friend was Humpty. The two were inseparable. Together, they formed Bean Club – a duo in search of magic beans. But as they grew older, they grew apart and went separate directions. Puss went down the road of honesty and integrity, while Humpty became a bad egg. (Pun intended and, yes, I stole that line from the movie.)
Jealous of the way that the town loved Puss, Humpty set Puss up for a trap that ruined his image and turned him into an instant outlaw, a bad kitty that the town wanted to see caged. Choosing the life of an outlaw on the run over that of a confined prisoner, Puss is now looking to make up for the only wrong he can mend – his friendship with Humpty. With the magic beans, the sky is the limit – literally. Although not a single other character from the 'Shrek' films makes an appearance in 'Puss in Boots,' the film is set in the same universe – with Puss and Humpty heading off on a familiar fairy tale of their own.
Despite not having nearly as many adult innuendos as the 'Shrek' movies, 'Puss in Boots' is still the type of animated kids flick that adults will enjoy just as much as children. It's a stand-alone story of its own; you don't need to have seen a single frame from a 'Shrek' movie to understand and enjoy 'Puss in Boots.' It's short, face-paced and to-the-point. Featuring nine minutes of closing credits, the movie itself is only 81-minutes-long. Filled with comedy, charm and heart, 'Puss in Boots' is the best 'Shrek'-based film since the terrific 'Shrek 2.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
DreamWorks has given 'Puss in Boots' a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo that arrives in a two-disc blue Elite keepcase that slides vertically into a slick cardboard slipcase with the same artwork. The cover art is great, but it also features the ugly thick blue band on the top with bold block white lettering saying "BLU-RAY + DVD + DIGITAL COPY," the same one that DreamWorks has placed on the covers of their recent releases. Included with the Region A BD-50, the DVD and the download code for the Digital Copy of the film are two coupon's for Chuck E. Cheese's and a flier for the upcoming 'How to Train Your Dragon' Arena Spectacular (which is also featured as a pre-menu preview and has its own "SEE DRAGONS LIVE" button on the main menu that triggers it again). Also playing before the menu is a DreamWorks vanity reel, a trailer for 'Madagascar 3' and a regional disclaimer about the availability of said previews.
DreamWorks certainly has their act together when it comes to releasing their animated films on Blu-ray. 'Puss in Boots' is no exception. Its flawless 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is 100 percent demo-worthy.
Having seen 'Puss in Boots' several times (I have kids), the Blu-ray is easily the best presentation of the film that I have seen yet. When I saw it in theaters, the darkness of the 3D glasses removed many of the exquisite finer details that are now clearly visible. Every other viewing of the movie after that was from an awards screener DVD, which obviously isn't going to be as strong as the Blu-ray. From close-ups to long shots, miniscule details like the individual hairs on Puss' body can always be seen. As Puss cat-lapses his shot glass of milk, tiny beads of milk splash up with clarity. Specks of dust are seen floating through powerful and brilliant rays of light.
All of these details are not only sharp during the bright moments, but the dark as well. When we first meet Kitty Softpaws in her Bat Suit, despite being a dark nighttime shot, we can still see the texture of her tight black leather outfit. The black levels are deep and powerful without removing an ounce of detail.
The image of the 2D Blu-ray carries an insanely natural 3D look. Picture quality of this high grade doesn't come around frequently. Thank heaven for DreamWorks' fine Blu-rays.
The 7.1 English Dolby TrueHD audio track of 'Puss in Boots' features everything you want and expect from a lossless 7.1 mix – dynamics, imaging and perfectly layered clarity.
Every minute of 'Puss in Boots' not only immerses you in the story of the film, but it actively places you in the middle of the action – no matter where the scenes take place or what's going on. All channels are firing just as much when Puss enters the still tavern as they do when his horse and cart crash on the bridge. When Puss walks in the bar, you can hear the chatter of random conversations taking place around the room, the clinking of glasses and bottles, the explosions of fireworks from outside and his thumping footsteps on the hollow floorboards. With equal dynamics, as Puss and Humpty attempt their high-speed getaway, LFE emits from the sub-woofer as horse-drawn cart careens through the streets. The metal-lined wagon wheels bang around and spark on the bumpy cobblestone. With each bump, the sounds of stolen coins clanking together can be heard. When the cart flips and its contents are thrown through the air, you'll hear coins raining down all around you.
The vocals are always clear and crisp (unlike those in the special feature short 'The Three Diablos'), but the music is definitely a strong high point. When Puss and Kitty have their dance battle in the Glitter Box, the traditional music is played by other cats in the club. Each instruments come in one by one. As you'd expect, they are well balanced and uniquely placed around the room, literally placing you in the center of the music. All sound is aimed at you. Traditional Spanish music has never sounded so good.
Again, hats off to DreamWorks for putting their all into their animated releases and giving us another demo-worthy Blu-ray.
A fun aspect to DreamWorks Animation's Blu-rays is that they include special features for both the adults and the kids. 'Puss in Boots' is no exception.
After the sour turn that the 'Shrek' franchise took, it was hard to expect much from 'Puss in Boots,' but with Guillermo Del Toro now overseeing all DreamWorks Animation projects, and 'Kung Fu Panda 2' showing us how much he's bringing with him, expect DreamWorks Animation to continue pumping out great films that will give Pixar a run for their money. 'Puss in Boots' offers all of the fun and excitement of the early 'Shrek' films, along with a new set of twists – all wrapped up in a neat little spaghetti western bundle. The Blu-ray features one of the most well-rounded releases I've seen to date. Both the video and audio qualities are perfectly demo-worthy and the disc is chock full of special features and HD exclusives. If you're a fan of great animated movies, then you simply must add 'Puss in Boots' to your collection.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.