Prequel struggles to hold it together

Every meow and then, sequels come along and kill everything that was wonderful about the original.

Four movies later, Shrek is finally living happily ever after. But it wasn’t always mud puddles and moth balls for our favorite ogre. The Shrek series took a hit with its third installment and never regained its strong, original fan base after the fourth film. Attempts at a Broadway musical put the fairy tale back on the map — for a fleeting moment.

But now DreamWorks is attempting to revitalize the franchise by telling the adventurous tale of one of Shrek’s most beloved characters, Puss. A spinoff of epic proportions, Puss In Bootsattempts to hold its own, but gets bogged down with a few fundamental flaws.

Heroic feline · The latest installment of the Shrek saga attempts to shed light on the intriguing history of Puss (Antonio Banderas), but ultimately comes up short with problematic storyline structure. - Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

In the film, Puss (Antonio Banderas) finds himself teamed up with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to find the three famed magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk. The trio is after the golden eggs that can be found in the giant’s castle high above the earth — but Jack and Jill aren’t having it.

As with the four preceding Shrek movies, you can expect the witty, borderline-risqué humor that pleased kids and adults alike. Along the same vein, Puss In Boots also does a fantastic job of drawing from pop culture to create hilarious moments that bring the film to life.

Been on YouTube recently? Chances are you’ve stumbled across videos of cats doing the darndest things — like “Keyboard Cat.” These clips have taken the Internet by storm, some generating millions of views. Riding the Internet’s treasure-trove of cat humor, the creators of Puss In Boots have found clever ways to weave cute Internet phenomena into a major motion picture.

The verdict: The humor is purrfect.

The visuals are also well done. Created especially for 3-D, the animation shines as one of the high points of the movie. It’s amazing to watch every individually colored hair on Puss’ body blow in the wind, backed by amazing landscapes brought to life through 3-D depth.

Alongside the animation, the filmmakers take risks by incorporating split-screen techniques into the picture — rare in the animation world. The results of this venture provide some of the best humor, referencing great films such as Adaptation and 127 Hours, which use similar cinematography techniques.

Though the film might look great and make you laugh, it’s hard to overlook Puss In Boots’ catastrophic errors, such as the forgettable characters and the over-the-top story line.

There’s no question Banderas was made to be Puss: His voice, the Zorro references and his strange sense of humor are all perfect for a swashbuckling cat.

His co-stars, however, are lackluster. Hayek as Kitty Softpaws is easily forgettable; she adds no real spice to the repertoire of charismatic Shrek characters.

Humpty Dumpty’s character, walks a fine line between obnoxious and simply not funny.

Humor should have been in the cards for Galifianakis, but the egg clearly lacks funny bones.

At times, viewers will wonder how the film came together. The story makes no sense in the grand scheme of the Shrek universe, and the plot can only be loosely held together by viewers’ adoration of Puss. In fact, the disappointing story could have been easily avoided simply by keeping the Shrek story arc intact.

Yes, we learn how Puss got those “wee little boots” and why he has a sexy Spanish accent. But how did he end up in a dive bar in Far Far Away working as an assassin-for-hire?

Verdict: The storyline is purrticularly unfortunate.

But, as the last two Shrek installments taught us, story isn’t everything. For Puss In Boots, the title character and droll humor are what save the film from vapidity — you’d be kitten yourself to think otherwise.

The film is certainly still light-hearted and fun. Think of it as spending 90 minutes with a friend who can’t tell a good story, but whom you love anyway for their quirks and effort.

Puss In Boots opens Friday in both 3-D and 2-D.