Well, Internet, we both knew this day would come. Whenever you start following a blog, you’re going to encounter a post where the blogger’s own opinions differ from your own. And you have to step back and decide, can I accept this blogger as an individual human being, with his own right to views and beliefs? Or can I not get over the fact he thinks differently than I do, and forsake him and his stupid blog forever?
Life is full of touchy subjects like this, and with my blog roughly 2 weeks old it’s high time I tackled a serious issue.
The Shrek series is most certainly terrible.
pictured: Shreks 1, 3, and 4
Understand, I was there in 2001 too, I remember how we were all totally thrilled there was a good CG cartoon outside of Pixar that actually had something resembling emotion behind it. And it had Mike Myers doing a Scottish accent and everything. The first Shrek was sassy and loud and frenetic and irreverent. Everybody loved it! However, on second viewing, a lot of the luster wore off, and you could see behind the curtain where it became more of a 90-minute screed about Disney, and how fascist and stupid and creatively bankrupt the monolith was. You know that one friend who is always complaining about work? And finally you say, look, just get a different job. And then he does, but he always talks about THAT job in relation to his previous HORRIBLE job? That’s the first Shrek. We get it, Dreamworks–you’ve got issues. Maybe one day you’ll get over them and make a truly great film on par with the ones you’re swiping at.
Now, even bad series’ can have a really good entry – and that is Shrek 2. I’d started to see through the first Shrek’s veneer, but I went to Shrek 2 on virtue of its characters. Despite my misgivings the series has some really good ones (which is why the holiday shorts are much better than the films themselves), and as fate would have it part 2 added the best: Puss in Boots. Most importantly, Shrek 2 used those characters and their personalities to craft a big adventure. It was tons of fun, and I had not laughed so hard in a theater in a while.
And so, with renewed faith in the series I rushed out to see Shrek the Third–and that’s as far as I can remember. The movie was so forgettable that I–quite literally–forgot about it. No, really. I didn’t even remember there was a Shrek 3 until I saw a billboard for Shrek 4. I couldn’t even tell you what the third film was about. If held at gunpoint I could recall there were baby ogres and vomit. That’s the extent of my Shrek 3 recall.
I did not see the fourth Shrek. This is because the first two things I knew about the film were:
- There was a third Shrek I completely erased from my memory.
- They made Puss in Boots fat.
Neither are forgivable, so I haven’t seen it (I do own it – I bought my wife the series box set last Christmas because she enjoys them and I’m not a monster). I did just look up the plot on IMDb, though, and it sounds wretched. The real problem here is cynicism. The Shrek series is so pre-occupied with deconstruction / parody / pop-culture that it can’t get out of its own way and be a good kids franchise. There is enough cynicism out there, I don’t need it anywhere near my kids movies. If the planning for Toy Story kicked off with “Remember when we were kids and playing with toys was AWESOME? What if…” then the Shrek equivalent is “Aren’t fairy tales kind of lame? Well what if…”
But this is all beside the point. This entry isn’t really about Shrek. It’s about a movie I saw yesterday.
From the moment Puss in Boots was announced, I’ve been apprehensively optimistic. I wanted it to be good – I love Puss as a character. But, you know, the Shrek franchise and what they COULD do with it. Would they get out of PiB’s way and let him shine as a lead character? Would they tell the swashbuckling adventure story he deserved, or would they mire it in self-parody and pop-culture skewers? I avoided any and all previews and trailers (when possible), convincing myself it would be good and worth seeing.
Yesterday we made the plunge and dropped the bank to see it in theaters. Fortunately…
Puss in Boots is fantastic. (Seriously I had so much fun watching this movie.)
From moment one, this is a movie about Puss. There is no narrator saying “You know him from Far Far Away…” It doesn’t begin with a “before they were stars”-style reality show. The audience is dropped right into the world of Puss in Boots. Is this before the Shrek films? After? Nobody knows - it’s not important.
Dreamworks made the wise decision to not lean on the Shrek cast to pad out the movie. It doesn’t become a Puss and Donkey buddy flick. We don’t see Gingy in the background (NOTE: Gingy could be in the background, but I didn’t see him).
After a brief introductory scene, the plot kicks off in earnest as we get a goal, adversaries, and a mysterious past for our main character. We meet an old friend and get a glimpse of Puss in Boots’ origin story. This informs the rest of the tale and it’s non-stop adventure from there. At no point are we mired in jokes for the sake of having them; there is never dead air as a CG character “pauses for effect” or looks at the audience like “…get it? See what I did there?” And that’s because there’s no time – Puss would rather be leaping from buildings or swordfighting or dancing or cartwheeling or charming ladies.
This is all just describing a normal good movie, right? I don’t really know what I was expecting (since I wanted it to be good) but apparently it wasn’t a fun swashbuckling romp. Which isn’t to say there’s no self aware humor to be had. Puss in Boots certainly knows it is a film about a storybook cat, and that that cat is voiced by Antonio Banderas, and that women love Antonio Banderas. What matters, though, is that transparent fourth wall is not the first bullet point on PiB’s resume. Above all else, Puss remembers it is a movie for 10-year-olds. (Second on the list is that 10-year-olds are way smart, so make sure it’s a smart movie.)
Gushing aside, Puss in Boots has heart–the type normally missing from CG films without Pixar at the helm. I am not saying it feels like a Pixar film – it is far more edgy and less wholesome than an Up – but there’s something there that’s always been missing from the Shrek films. Puss in Boots is easily up there with Incredibles and Ratatouille as an authentic good time.
"Drop the attitude. You were never even in those awful movies."
If I have one criticism of Puss in Boots (and I have to – this is the internet) it’s that they lift a plot twist wholesale from Disney’s Bolt. Not only that, but it happens to involve a cat that looks near-identical to the character in Bolt it is referencing. Normally I could just shrug it off (like that Lion King / Kimba nonsense) but really, it is the exact. same. twist. Even then, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, except for the fact the first movie in this franchise went on at great length about how creatively bankrupt Disney is. If you’re going to cast aspersions like that, you should probably take care not to borrow ideas from your target. Normally I’d assume that maybe the people behind Puss in Boots never saw Bolt – maybe they were hard at work on Shrek 4 at the time, I don’t know – but Dreamworks has taught me to be more cynical than that.
Two of these cats share one terrible secret.
Still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying Puss in Boots, and it shouldn’t stop you either! If you like kids movies at all, there’s fun to be had here.
OVERALL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10 clumps of fur all over your favorite black dress
BONUS CONTENT: The aspect of Puss that I’ve always found most compelling (since his introduction in Shrek 2), is that he’s about 90% human and 90% cat. The animation team responsible for him must spend half their workday playing with cats, because his every animation is pitch perfect. It’s amazing how he can deliver a line with all the swag Banderas’ voice implies, and then stretch his claws, roll on his back, and begin an authentic feline cleaning ritual. It’s worked into the subtlety of how he jumps, how he lands, how he fights–everything. It may not be as apparent to people who don’t own cats, but an insane amount of effort is put into rendering the “puss” in those boots (Shrek 2′s hairball scene is hilariously authentic).
My wife and I saw the movie with two friends of ours who recently got cats. The four of us were laughing hard at all the “cat-isms” that are rendered onscreen. We were apparently the only cat owners in the audience. It reminded me of a similar instance, locked deep in my childhood, when my friend and I went with our mothers to a movie called Turner & Hooch. It was a movie about a dog who is a material witness to a murder, and Tom Hanks has to look after him awaiting the trial (because some killers have targeted the dog to erase the evidence–look it was the 80′s). There’s a big “first time dog owner” montage near the start of the movie where Hooch (the dog) eats a ton of food and gets all drooly and oh man so hard to bathe a large dog. Our parents, both owners of big dogs, were practically on the floor of the theater laughing. I have never, before or since, seen my mother laugh that way. The rest of the theater glared at them, as if laughing in a comedy was illegal.
Seriously you guys – animals are funny.
(Images taken from one of the Shrek movies, Puss in Boots, Bolt, and Turner & Hooch)