Quick Synopsis: Puss in Boots discovers that his passion for adventure has taken its toll when he learns that he has burnt through eight of his nine lives.
I like the Shrek films, but that’s it. The first is a very entertaining film, but they’ve suffered a weird identity crisis since then. It’s only natural, the first one was a parody of fairy-tale stories, mocking the tropes and cliches that they contain. But after it was a success, the franchise became the very thing it was initially parodying. It still made jokes about the tropes, but it was doing it from a place of now being part of the club. There hasn’t been a new entry in the main franchise since 2010, probably because of the poor reception to the fourth one. Most of the people who enjoyed the first ones are now adults with jobs, bills to pay, and a favourite ring on the hob (Bottom Right, btw). So is there really any desire for this, especially one from the director of The Croods: The New Age?
The opening doesn’t fill you with confidence, a standard fairy-tale opening about wishes. You’d be forgiven for expecting that you won’t so much watch this, as suffer through it.
Then something happens; Puss In Boots dies. It’s okay, as he’s a cat so he has 9 lives. Well, HAD 9 lives, and he now has one. This kicks off the main theme of the film, one that’s obviously perfect for a kid’s film: Existential dread.
It does an excellent job of displaying that dread, it’s probably helped by one of the best pieces of sound design I’ve ever heard. That sound is genuinely haunting, and wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film.
Also wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film; the villains in this. Anybody who played The Wolf Among Us knows what you can do when you take fairy-tale villains seriously (as opposed to what people usually mean when they say “adult fairy-tale characters” which just involves dressing them in sexual clothing and giving them tattoos). Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a crime family makes all the sense in the world. The true villain is Jack Horner, the characterisation of him is one of the most horrific adaptations you can make. I don’t say that lightly, this film is shockingly dark at times. A good example of this is when a plant eats someone. It doesn’t just do a “plant goes nom, the person disappears”, the plant leaves a skeleton. He also shoots his own men with a unicorn horn that causes them to explode.
It could be argued that the villains are TOO good. There are three separate villain stories here, and all of them are worthy of a lot of time and exploration, but because they’re all in the same film they occasionally fight for space. It does lend the film a slight manic energy that’s reminiscent of It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (or for modern audiences; Rat Race), but that doesn’t happen enough.
The action set-pieces are unique, especially when they take place in the middle of ever-changing landscapes and everything flows together in a manner that reminds me of Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse. Some of them could be improved slightly, there are a few too many elastic physics moments that pull you out slightly, but it does mostly work.
The voice cast is pretty good, with some returning from previous films, and some new. The only small quibble is that Florence Pugh and Olivia Colman sound quite similar at times. It’s weird to hear Ray Winstone in a kid’s film, but it works for the character. Harvey Guillen as Perrito was an inspired choice, meaning a character that could be annoying is actually lovable as hell. Mulaney does what he needs to as Jack Horner, but he’s definitely not the highlight.
So yeah, go see this, it’s much better than you’d think it would be. Just leave about 20 seconds before the end so you avoid the disappointing sequel hook.