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
Paramount and DreamWorks Home Entertainment release this 3D Blu-ray edition of 'Puss in Boots' as a three-disc combo pack and a downloadable Digital Copy. The first two are Region Free, BD50 discs (3D only compatible with 3D equipment; the other, 2D) but only the second contains supplements. The third is a DVD-9 for standard-def players.
All three are housed inside the usual blue keepcase and a glossy slipcover. Package includes coupons for Chuck E. Cheese and adverts for the 'Puss in Boots' videogame and "How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular." At start-up, the disc starts with a 3D preview for 'Madagascar 3,' and afterwards, switches to a main menu with music and animated scene at the Glitter Box.
'Puss in Boots' razzle-dazzles and charms his way onto Blu-ray with those big adorable eyes and refuses to let go. He isn't quite the perfect match for the very best in the 3D arena, revealing some minor gaffes in his dance moves, but he knows how to amaze at the right moments and puts on a great show nonetheless. In spite of the dark glasses, the 1080p/MVC encode (2.35:1) is vivid and saturated in rich, warm colors which leap off the screen. Yellows, oranges and reds are especially dazzling, giving the animation an energetic, tepid appeal. There's some very light banding around the softer, pastel hues in a couple of exterior scenes, but only noticeable when looking for it.
The presentation is extraordinarily bright, with pitch-perfect contrast, bringing out every background object in the far-distance with splendid clarity. Black levels are full-bodied and ample in every scene, providing the image with a great deal of dimension throughout. Many shadowy sequences, which there are plenty of, tend to engulf some of the specifics within the picture. Daylight scenes are, of course, best, exposing every line and feature on the Spanish architecture of the towns and in the rocky landscape of the desert plains. The fine hairs making up the furry coats of the two feline heroes are distinct and move with incredible lifelike simplicity. The stitching around the clothing of various characters is remarkably well-defined with beautifully detailed texture on Puss's hat and boots.
In the 3D realm, the transfer displays gorgeous depth and a terrific breadth of range, generating a convincing sense of size and proportion. Foreground objects show excellent separation from the rest of the picture and appear to move independently of the background. In many sequences, particularly those with lots of action, the image has a great pop-up book effect with several layers that move deep into the screen and nicely create the illusion of three-dimensional space. Unfortunately, it isn't always consistent with some scenes looking flatter than others, often those with dim lighting like the darkly-lit interiors mentioned above. The few 3D gimmicks don't really protrude from the screen with believability, and crosstalk is a regular nuisance around objects in the far distance, especially every time the moon makes an appearance.
All in all, the animated spinoff makes for an excellent and enjoyable 3D presentation.
The audio is the same Dolby TrueHD soundtrack heard on the standard Blu-ray release, and it's a highly entertaining design where the music takes center stage. Henry Jackman's original score makes terrific use of the high-rez codec, spreading evenly throughout the sound system and marvelously enveloping the listener. Other minor discrete effects meant for ambience try to participate in the background, but are not quite as convincing. The swashbuckling action, however, displays flawless panning movement and directionality into the rears, enhancing the soundfield satisfyingly.
In the fronts, the soundstage is expansive and welcoming, creating a wonderful, spacious image that's engaging. The music, again, is most impressive with a superb, crystal-clear mid-range, allowing for each instrument in the orchestra to be perfectly heard without the slightest distortion. The graceful kitty dance-off scene is a true highlight of the lossless mix where viewers can enjoy the pluck of individual strings on the guitar and detect every step of the character's dance moves. Vocal remain intelligible and precise amid the noise and chaos. The low-end is fairly deep and weighty for the music, but explosive action sequences don't seem to have a very persuasive oomph.
Nonetheless, the track is a great joy, and it adds plenty of delight to the movie.
All the special features found on the 2D Blu-ray release are also shared in this 3D edition.
Despite being a spinoff of the 'Shrek' franchise, 'Puss in Boots' stands on its own two paws as a fun and entertaining CG animated film. With the voice talents of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis, the fairytale comedy isn't really the strongest offshoot from a movie series, but it's imaginative with tons of humor and excitement for the whole family. The 3D Blu-ray shows some negligible issues which keep it on this side of perfection, but the presentation puts on a terrific show nonetheless with excellent video and audio. The package also comes with plenty of supplements to make this 3D Blu-ray edition highly recommended.