As animated franchise spin-off contractual agreements go, Puss in Boots could have been worse. A lot worse. Think about the least inspired, most product-placement-riddled and irritating moment of the worst Shrek movie. It could have been like that.
Happily for you and your kids, it's not. And you can thank:
* The screenwriters for maintaining Puss's consistency of character. I know that sounds sort of ridiculous to point out, but it's a real consideration. In the Shrek universe the joke usually wins over everything else, so it's good to see some character balance here. There's a reason Puss is the breakout sidekick from the original films and it's because he's a witty self-starter. If cartoons can be said to have integrity, then they maintain that here.
* Director Chris Miller and the animators for keeping the action moving forward instead of -- again, like it so often transpires in the Shrek movies -- in an endless loop of pop culture references and smugness. And this is a simpler story than its predecessors are used to delivering; Puss and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) are on a mission to get magic beans from Jack and Jill in order to retrieve the goose that lays golden eggs. Along the way, Puss finds love with the mercenary Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and fractured friend drama with the prickly, difficult Humpty. And while it's not going to become anyone's favorite animated feature of all time, it's a perfectly fine family film.
* Antonio Banderas's voice acting. He's had plenty of time to figure out this character and it shows. He's comfortable with voice comedy in a way he's never really seemed to be otherwise, which may actually just be the curse of any handsome actor. Winners are inherently less funny than losers or, in this case, cartoon cats. Even cooler, it's a jarring contrast to his current live-action screen offering, Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, where he plays an obsessive plastic surgeon on what can only be described as a mission of psycho-sexual vengeance (aka, NOT for kids).
* Zach Galifianakis, who takes Humpty Dumpty, of all characters, and turns him mercurial, emotionally complicated, manic, furious, unreliable and fascinating. The strange, sneering, toothy character design helps, too, but this is a Humpty with baggage and Galifianakis stretches out and steals his scenes. He's not too much for children, but he's plenty for adults to be weirded out by.
* Cats tango in this movie. Quite a bit. You never knew you wanted to see animated kitties dancing this much, but you do.
Okay, good news delivered. Now the bad: Stay away from 3D screenings of this thing. I attended a press screening in a run-of-the-mill multiplex (as opposed to a private screening room where lots of press screenings are held) and something was wrong. Either the film itself has been terribly processed into 3D -- it was dark and murky -- in the post-production stage or the theater I saw it in had their own issues with lighting and projection. I'm going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and blame the theater, but this is a pervasive problem in multiplexes around the country and, with 3D ticket prices the way they are, it's inexcusable. If theaters aren't managed properly and projection quality for 3D movies is, more and more often, inept, thanks to a lack of attention and quality maintenance on the staff, then you should vote with your money and opt out.