Just as the blockbuster summer walks out of Hollywood conscience and Oscar season prepares to swagger around the corner, “Puss in Boots” is creeping into theaters. After the fourth film in the “Shrek” series displayed its impressive ability to copy its own downtrodden formula, original fans started to wonder if it would be possible to shoehorn another entry into this fairy-tale universe.

Puss in Boots

At Quality 16 and Rave
Paramount


Well, no — it’s not. That cash cow was led to the slaughterhouse a long time ago. So what’d the “Shrek” makers do? They made a prequel spin-off: “Puss in Boots.”

Fortunately, this cheap idea cashes in with lavish, big-budget animation and charm. But while “Puss in Boots” is able to evoke an adequate amount of laughter from its audience, it never fills the shoes the first two “Shrek” films gleefully wore when they stormed the world 10 years ago.

Still, “Puss” is able to provide an interesting mythology behind its titular character (Antonio Banderas, “Spy Kids”). As it turns out, Puss was not always a philandering feline. A long time ago, isolated in a small town, he was just another orphan with dreams and only one friend to share them with — Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, “The Hangover Part 2”). After being alienated from each other for many years, they reunite with the seductive thief extraordinaire, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, “Frida”) on a quest to find the “golden goose.”

It’s a familiar fairy tale, but like its predecessors, “Puss” puts a twist on the storytelling. While director Chris Miller (“Shrek the Third”) is at the animation helm, executive producer Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) lends the film some of that essential Spanish heritage. And of course the sexual innuendos and references remain, tactfully placed and wittily written.

But it just isn’t the same as the original. The cat puns wear out their welcome the instant they strut into the picture. They brazenly make an appearance and simply refuse to leave. In “Shrek 2,” the “catnip” reference was hilarious, but here in “Puss” that sharp wit is a dull glow of its original splendor. The lovable, cuddly hero trope also loses its appeal quickly, which is unfortunate since a good deal of the film’s comedic success floats on this boat.

By all counts, this film should have indeed sunk. The story is convoluted, the supporting characters are steeped in the usual adventure film clichés, no voice work truly stands out and the climax is unremarkable — leaving the viewer with a shrug. Alas, the big names behind the heroes rarely light up the screen. Banderas’s charm can only carry the film so far before Galifianakis’s passionless work weighs him down.

That said, the film still delivers its laughs with vibrant animation. Though its wit is not as inspired as one might hope, it definitely exceeds the expectations its fans were left with after the last two “Shrek” films.

So how will the world speak about “Puss” 10 years from now? Simple: It won’t. In the meantime, children will laugh at the characters’ colorful antics — while their parents smile knowingly and hope the young ones won’t ask too many questions — and it’ll be a fun night for the family.

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