From the moment the short, orange fur-ball in his feathered hat and swashbuckler boots enters the dusty bar and orders his first glass of leche, "warm," the audience is instantly smitten.
After all, it was that swagger and smugness that captivated fans who were introduced to the notorious outlaw Puss in Boots in DreamWorks' hugely popular "Shrek" films.
The action-packed spinoff Puss in Boots, directed by Chris Miller ( Shrek the Third), takes Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) back to pre-ogre days, when he was an orphaned kitty along with fellow playmate Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). The childhood outcasts are best buds until a botched bank robbery severs their friendship. It's years later when they regroup with the delightfully daring Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to try to save their boyhood home of San Ricardo. The three plot to steal magic beans from ghastly goons Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) so they can climb the beanstalk, nab the golden goose and repay the town's debt.
The stunning scenery and well-choreographed dance-fight sequences are boosted by the 3-D technology, but it's still not obvious that the enhancements were necessary to the central story. In fact, what's most appealing about Puss are the three-dimensional characters, from the sultry and street-smart Softpaws to the devilish and delightful Humpty. Puss' self-deprecating nature grounds the character, so when the obligatory cat jokes and double entendres fly, Banderas' clever phrasing charms rather than offends.
At times, the film feels like a cheeky reboot of Banderas' "Zorro" films, but Puss is saved by the writers' fresh spin on classic fairy tales. In fact, the introduction of a murderous Jack and Jill may even be too dark for younger children.
The question remains whether legions of "Shrek" fans will follow the feline hero.
"When the Shrek films came out, my daughter [Stella] was 6 or 7," Banderas told me at the Puss in Boots premiere in Grapevine last week. "Now that she's a teenager, she sees this film in all its beauty -- colors, depth, story."
In other words, our little kitty is all grown up.