When last year’s "Shrek Forever After" earned more than $752 million worldwide, cynics might reasonably have wondered whether DreamWorks Animation would find some way to keep the fifth-highest-grossing franchise in history alive, without seeming to renege on its prior promise of a definitive finale.
To date, the studio has no plans to bring the cantankerous ogre back to the big screen, but that hasn’t stopped Puss in Boots, Shrek’s swashbuckling feline friend, from stepping into the spotlight. Loosely based on Charles Perrault’s fairy-tale hero and voiced with a deep, seductive growl by Antonio Banderas, Puss headlines his own spinoff adventure opening today.
Considering that Puss drew the biggest laughs in "Forever After," the move makes sense. But what’s the secret of the cat’s success? Mars Blackmon might argue it’s gotta be the shoes — er, boots — but Banderas, who created the character for "Shrek 2" (2004), disagrees.
"It’s the voice, one I’ve never used in any other movie," he says. "People compare Puss to Zorro, but Zorro never spoke like that. I gave him a voice he’s not supposed to have — this little kitty cat is supposed to have a tiny voice, but no. He needs a big voice, and that is where the comedy comes from."
Banderas, 51, never expected Puss to play such a pivotal role in the evolution of the franchise, but says that befriending the filmmakers — including "Shrek the Third" director Chris Miller, who returns for "Puss in Boots" — afforded him chances to shape the character’s development, including his trademark footwear.
"Look at these," he says, showing off his own brown suede boots. "I was wearing these, with the big heels, and Chris just started laughing at me — ‘Those are for girls!’ The line ended up in the movie, and it shows how a character can reflect you, not just other characters you’ve done."
It comes as little surprise, then, that Banderas was consulted before producers cast the actress who would co-star in "Puss" as Kitty Softpaws, a master thief with a famously light touch. He pushed for Salma Hayek, his friend of the past 18 years.
Thanks to her daughter Valentina, Hayek, 45, says she’d already seen the "Shrek" movies "at least 1,000 times." But she still remembers her first.
"Penélope Cruz and I were shooting in Mexico, and we went to visit Antonio," she says. "We thought we were going to go out, but he had this DVD, ‘Shrek 2,’ and he made us watch it. He was so proud. So trust me, I knew this cat coming in."