A review of "Puss in Boots," whose highlight is a scene of tangoing felines. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek voice characters in this "Shrek" spinoff.

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MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

Sometimes, you don’t know how badly you want to see something until you actually see it. In the case of “Puss in Boots,” it was two cats doing the tango. Think about it: Who could tango better than a cat, who is naturally graceful, perpetually slinky and has that don’t-mess-with-me-or-I-will-cut-you attitude — a tango staple — down pat? There’s just something perfect about the idea, despite the inconvenient truth that real cats can’t tango (though I suspect mine just might, when I’m not watching). But until we capture the feline version of “Dancing with the Stars” on a hidden camera, the animated kitties in “Puss in Boots” will have to suffice — and tango they do, with abandon and wit that’s a joy to watch.

That dance, performed by the title character (suavely voiced by Antonio Banderas) and his love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, nicely purring), is a highlight of “Puss in Boots,” an otherwise pleasantly unremarkable spinoff of the “Shrek” movies, directed by Chris Miller. Here, we meet Puss long before he hooks up with the green ogre and wisecracking donkey; this is an origin story, in which we see him earn his hat and boots — symbols, we’re told, of “honor and justice.” And he learns, early on, that making “big sad kitty eyes” gets him what he wants. (All cats know this. Especially mine.)

As the story progresses, we learn of his complicated relationship with fellow orphan Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), who’s got a few tricks up his, um, shell. With master cat burglar Kitty (those soft paws are quick), the trio sets off on an adventure involving fortune, revenge, a giant beanstalk, a goose who lays golden eggs, and a very, very nasty version of Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris).

Unfortunately, none of this is quite as funny as it should be — it’s a stark reminder that Eddie Murphy’s braying Donkey brought much of the wit to the “Shrek” series, as you’re all too aware of his absence. But the 3D animation is beautifully rendered (Puss’s ginger fur is wonderfully stroke-able), the voice actors snap and pop off each other, and there’s just enough wit to keep the grown-ups amused. (I liked the name of the down-at-the-heels club at which the kitties gather to down milk shots: The (G) litter Box.)

The 6-year-old accompanying me was rapt throughout, particularly enjoying the fast-paced action sequences and swordplay. A decisive “Loved it!” was his post-screening review. Me, I left dreaming of a world in which cats could tango — and when’s the last time a movie did that?

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com