The Shrek Swashbuckling Spin-Off That Works

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2001 Shrek is one of the most influential animated films of all time. With it, DreamWorks Animation proved that studios other than Pixar could produce quality computer-generated animated films, and Shrek sparked a new generation of family titles that attempted to copy his style. While ShrekPop culture references, offbeat humor and comedic portrayal of a historical period may have gotten boring after 20 years, the first film in the hit series holds up surprisingly well.

2004 Shrek 2 was a surprisingly strong sequel that captured the same mix of heart and humor that made the first Ogre story so enjoyable. However, the series began to falter quickly afterwards. Shrek and his friends were simply everywhere. The series has inspired countless merchandising lines, theme park rides, television specials, advertisements, and company-related products. It just got too much Shrek to manage, and unfortunately the other suites have only declined in quality. 2007 Shrek 3 did not provide the story with emotional stakes, and the 2010s shrek forever took the concept even further with its lazy “alternate history” story.

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Image via DreamWorks Animation

When DreamWorks announced a A prequel film that would explore the origin story of the swashbuckling feline, it felt like a cynical move of desperation to exploit the series even further. Puss himself, as voiced by Antonio Banderas, had become just as much of an over-the-top parody as the rest of the characters. While he had received a solid introduction in Shrek 2, the next two films overused it for comic relief. Wouldn’t it be funny if the brave swordsman was now overweight? Everyone loves big cats, right?

RELATED: How to Watch Every ‘Shrek’ Movie in Order (Chronologically or by Release Date)

Surprisingly, 2011 Puss in Boots not only succeeded despite low expectations. He gave a necessary new direction to the Shrek separate franchise from the main series. There wasn’t much more Shrek could do to extend the storyline featuring Shrek’s family, relationships, or role in the fairy tale kingdom of Far Far Away. The movies had just become another lazy comedy series like Vacation Where The adults. Puss in Boots changed the tone; it told Puss’ origin story as if it were a straight-up western adventure.

Rather than turning the titular furball into a caricature, Puss in Boots actually gave it more depth. The film shows how Puss develops his chivalry and how his tragic beginnings laid the foundation for the character we already knew. While he doesn’t lose his inherent charisma, Puss isn’t the same overconfident villain he is when first introduced in Shrek 2. He seeks to restore his honor. Amazingly, a character who had been traded to death gained a new sincerity he never had before.


cat-to-sword fight

The swashbuckling tone was absolutely perfect. The main films had played on Banderas’ reputation as an outlaw hero which he had developed through his collaborations with Robert Rodriguez to El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once upon a time in Mexico. While the Shrek the movies contain nothing but references that flew over most kids’ heads, Puss in Boots engages in the moral grayness of the desert wasteland. Puss encounters the same kind of devious bounty hunters, smugglers, and thieves that inspired him in the first place. It’s still a PG-rated movie with goofy humor, but having real stakes was a change of pace.

The film takes place several years before Shrek 2and focuses on Puss’s search for the murderous outlaws, Jack (Billy Bob Thorton) and Julie (Amy Sedaris). The siblings have stolen some magic beans that Puss is desperate to get her hands on. Puss isn’t the only outlaw searching for the valuables; the feline femme fatale Kitty Softpaws (amusingly voiced by Salma Hayek) is also on the hunt. Puss finds out she’s been hired by criminal mastermind, Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zack Galifinakis), a figure from his past.

The film explores an early friendship that developed between Humpty and Puss. The fast-talking egg was raised alongside Puss in an orphanage, and the two bonded over their shared status as strangers. They quickly become adventure-seeking allies, but Humpty’s deceptive ways come to light. He convinces Puss to join him on a robbery in his hometown of San Ricardo, but leaves him at the crime scene; Puss has been on the run ever since.

There’s quite a bit of humorous back-and-forth (this is a film about a talking egg and a talking cat), but the question of where Humpty’s true loyalties lie gives the story a sufficiently compelling mystery. It also became a way for the film to have real stakes as a prequel. Since we know where Puss ends up in the Shrek movies, testing her relationship with Humpty and Kitty adds tension. That’s more than many live-action prequels can say.


Puss in Boots-Humpty

If the Shrek the films pushed the boundaries of what is considered “family entertainment” with their surprisingly frequent sexual humor, Puss in Boots contains much more action than the standard children’s movie. It was one of the few animated films to make good use of 3D, creating lots of really fun chase and sword fight sequences. The final set features Puss dueling the villainous Comandante (Guillermo del Toro) on a collapsing bridge, as Humpty’s allegiance is tested. It’s actually quite gripping, and the director Chris Miller does a good job recreating actual choreography in animated form.

Many of the most successful anime franchises of all time have spawned lazy spinoffs that dilute their initial appeal; Despicable Me at Minions, Cars at planesand Madagascar at Penguins of Madagascar. Puss in Boots was a novelty and proved that focusing on a supporting character shouldn’t just be a cash grab. In reality, Puss in Boots is better than a Shrek 5 would have looked like. Another payment, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, is set to hit theaters in September. Well worth the eager wait.


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