The animated adventure Puss in Boots is a spin-off of the blockbuster Shrek franchise, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by watching it. In an exclusive interview with Hollywood.com, Puss in Boots director Chris Miller explained why ignoring Shrek was crucial to his film, and how Guillermo del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit turned out to be a godsend.
It seems like this project has been in the works forever. Were you on board from the beginning?
I came in around the beginning of 2008, but I think it’s been around – I’m guessing here – since 2004 or 2005. My producers, Latifa Ouaou and Joe Aguilar were on at the beginning. But back then it was this project that was being developed, but it was slightly back-burner. It just wasn’t getting the attention. A writer would take a pass [at the script] and it would lay dormant for six months, then reappear as a pirate movie. [Laughs] Then it would go away again. Right around 2007, someone wrote a draft that finally got the attention of the studio. I was just coming off Shrek the Third and they asked me if I’d be interested, and I immediately thought, “That character is great.” I hadn’t seen the script or anything, but I knew the character was brilliant, and I was really interested in doing something totally different than what’s been done in the Shrek movies.
That’s one thing that surprised me with the film. Aside from some similarities with the animation, there’s really no resemblance to Shrek.
We were very conscious of that. We didn’t want any crossover with Shrek at all. We just thought it would dilute our creation of a new world. It should be his film and his film alone. Everything about the movie and its style comes from the character himself: his traits, the persona that Antonio infused him with. We knew that we wanted to do an origin story. The character’s colorful and the world he comes form should be as well. It’s bold and dynamic. We knew we were going to do a lot more with the camera in this film and play with shadow and light a lot more. We wanted it to be dark and mysterious and yet colorful and energized as well.
At what point did Guillermo del Toro come aboard as Executive Producer?
I remember reading in the trades that The Hobbit wasn’t happening. And I was bummed out. I wanted to see that dark, twisted version of that movie. Later that day I heard that Guillermo was stopping by Dreamworks and I was asked to show him a peak at the movie. He was just checking out everything. So I showed him some artwork and gave him a rundown of the basic story, and he was very much into it. The next day we screened the film for him and the studio, and he loved it … and he asked us, “Do you mind if I work on this? Can I help you guys out in any way?” And we were like, “Absolutely!” It was fated: We found out he was off The Hobbit and two days later he was Executive Producer of Puss in Boots.
So were worked out a system where once a month, or every six weeks, we’d have a Guillermo day. He’d come in and we’d go over artwork, or work on a scene, or flesh out a problem with a character … and that’s how we proceeded for a year and some change. If we were having trouble with an action scene in editorial, if we couldn’t get the pacing right, we’d bring Guillermo in. We’d sit down and have a session with him and learn so much about cutting action. If we were jammed on the design of the giant’s castle, we’d bring Guillermo in and get his thoughts. It created this really great, collaborative situation that allowed us to work through stuff.
I’m amazed at the energy and enthusiasm he displays. He really seems like a fountain of creativity.
He’s a hurricane. I really hope Pacific Rim [del Toro’s next film] just kills, because I want to see At the Mountains of Madness get made. He was so excited about it. He showed me some stuff on that, some test animation, and it looked amazing. So otherworldly. I’d never seen anything like it. I felt so bad for him [when the project was canceled].
If he and Tom Cruise can’t get that movie made, who can?
I don’t know. But if Pacific Rim [does well], if he can make a movie that does half a billion worldwide, he’ll get to make a lot of films the way that he wants.
Puss in Boots is now playing in theaters everywhere.