He’s a legend: The notorious fighter. The lover. The outlaw. He’s Puss in Boots. The remarkable feline has appeared in the Shrek films, but now his epic tale gets the telling it deserves in 3D in the self-titled Puss in Boots from DreamWorks Animation.
At the helm of the incredible story is director Chris Miller, who was there at the beginning of Dreamworks Animation Studio SKG, working as a story artist on Antz, the studio’s first animated comedy hit. Before long, Miller found himself an important part of one of the most successful animated film series of all time, first as a story artist on Shrek, then moving on to head of story on the follow-up Shrek 2 and directing Shrek the Third. Miller first encountered the unforgettable cat known as Puss in Boots on Shrek 2. He was instantly captivated by the adventurous cat and wondered about his history and how he came to get the boots. From the first “meeting,” he knew the little cat with the huge personality had to have his story of heroic feats told.
Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embarks upon the adventure of a lifetime with the beautiful and tough Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and the brilliant yet misguided mastermind Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) to save his beloved hometown of San Ricardo. Along the way, the notorious bandits Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thorton and Amy Sedaris) attempt to thwart the efforts of Puss and his band at every turn. The story of the furry feline outlaw running from the law in an attempt to clear his tainted name and redeem himself makes for an outrageously funny film.
In fact, every element of the film is based on the personality of Puss, from the editing, to the production design, to the music. Puss is small, but he is bold, romantic and dramatic. An epic hero in boots who can’t resist chasing after a spot of reflected light, Puss colors a rich fantasy world of epic adventures.
An integral source of comedy was achieved in the film by the editing. Unlike live-action films, in animation the editor does not come onto the project near the end of principal photography to assemble the film. The animation editor, Eric Dapkewicz, who also edited Dreamworks’ Monster vs. Aliens and Flushed Away, was involved from the beginning of production, working during the story process to create the tone, rhythm, and story arcs for the collection of images that tell the swashbuckling tale. Director Miller remarked, “All we did is edit, [in animation], you actually edit first, then make the film… the last 6 months of the film was me in a dark room somewhere in the basement of Dreamworks. [Editing] is my life.”
Editing helped create a larger than life Puss who is not unlike Clint Eastwood in his classic westerns. Dapkewicz watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, along with other films that featured sweeping heroic leads for inspiration. The homage in Puss in Boots to the genre of American Western is a surprising and delightfully comedic touch. Miller felt that the world of old spaghetti Westerns suited the character of Puss. Some scenes stretch out, holding on to the character and environment moodily, longer than what is usual for an animated film. The expansive use of the camera and the split screens in the film lend itself well to the colorful melodrama of Puss.
Miller noted that in Puss, there is also some “Indiana Jones, Zorro, and Errol Flynn,” and the world created through animation was meant to reflect the strong, adventurous character of Puss. Production designer Guillaume Aretos, who served as art director on the second and third Shrek films, was also responsible for creating the highly stylized and colorful world Puss inhabits. Latin culture and Spanish movies influenced the filmmakers’ vision of the way the design would look. The landscape in the film is a endless palette of rich, warm, saturated colors. From the inception, Miller believed the film would be best presented in 3D, and the filmmakers really took advantage of all the opportunities 3D offered. In 3D, the stunning visuals sweep by the screen almost like a theme park ride. The lighting is dramatic, massive shadows highlighting the small feline. The sets are crooked, in a literal sense, from the houses to the jails to the streets.
The filmmakers wanted the asymmetry to represent the heart of the unbalanced characters, many of whom are classic nursery rhymes gone awry. Early on, Aretos adopted the principle that would guide his design: “crooked characters, crooked world.” He looked at the geography of northern Spain, and took inspiration from the dry and beautiful climate with the olive and pine trees by the coast that were bent by the winds. With the desert climates in mind, he set out to create an imbalance in the surroundings of the characters using the language of shape that would illustrate who they are at their core. And Puss, at his core, is action, adventure, comedy and romance.
With the magic of animation, there were no restrictions in the possibilities to create an utterly different world on a grand scale. The film abounds with special effects, creative action sequences and impossible yet delicious fantasies. Dance off challenges in a cats only cantina, a good egg gone bad, childhood dreams of magic beans, Puss in Boots is a never ending surprise of fables.
Director Miller headed the massive undertaking of more than 620 artists collaborating over several years to bring the story of Puss to the big screen. After all the hours, the efforts, and the dark basement somewhere in Dreamworks, it comes down to one thing for Miller: story. A comedy and an adventure film that reminds everyone that anyone can change their lives at any point and deserves the second chance, Puss in Boots’ origin story is one of lore and legend. It’s about brotherhood gone wrong followed by revenge and redemption and how the furry outlaw with the heart of gold came to get his boots.