Debuting in theaters on December 21st, ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ reunites audiences with the dashing, daring feline hero who got his start in the ‘Shrek’ movies to humorous effect.
With 12 years between ‘Puss in Boots’ entries, you might be forgiven for thinking that DreamWorks Animation had decided to close the door on movies based on its ‘Shrek’ universe altogether, outside of occasional straight-to-streaming spin-offs.
Yet here comes Puss, riding back with a full theatrical release and leaving hints that we’ll be revisiting the wider ‘Shrek’-verse before too long.
Judged on its own merits, however, ‘The Last Wish’ is a worthy, funny follow-up to the 2011 movie, which gives a little extra depth to the charismatic hero, who has little time for rules or regulations.
A quick burst of exposition catches us up with what Puss (Antonio Banderas, on enthusiastic vocal form as always) has been up to and provides a handy sketch for those who have not watched one of his appearances before.
Which is all to say: Puss has been being Puss––drinking lots of milk, pulling off daring feats, annoying local authorities and hosting raucous parties (the initial scene features a combination of all three).
But after his latest scrape, he realizes that his passion for peril and disregard for safety have taken their toll: Puss has burned through eight of his nine lives. An early highlight is a flashback clip showing how the others were lost, the character falling afoul of canons, weightlifting accidents, and falls from great heights.
Worried that he’s on borrowed time, he initially decides to retire, heading for Mama Luna’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a home for stray cats. Initially rebellious, he soon falls into a routine of eating with the others and using the litter tray like a regular moggy.
A chance encounter with thieves who come looking for something at the house reveals the existence of the titular last wish––a star that could help him restore his spent lives. And along for the quest will be his former flame, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and new friend/annoyance Perro (Harvey Guillén), a pug who longs to find his place in the world and who had been hiding out at Mama Luna’s disguised as a cat.
Puss isn’t the only one looking for the star, though. He and his friends will have to stay one step ahead of Goldi (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears Crime Family, and Jack Horner (John Mulaney), a rich, spoiled brat who is constantly trying to shake his reputation as “Little” Jack Horner.
Plus, Puss is being pursued by a mysterious bounty hunter, the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura), who appears to be more supernatural than your usual tracker. Could this be death on Puss’ trail given his lack of lives?
‘The Last Wish’ certainly stands as a solid sequel to ‘Puss in Boots’, and boasts an attractive, imaginative animation style that, like ‘The Bad Guys’ before it, owes a debt to ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ for its blend of techniques that give the movie a painterly quality and the feeling of anime at different points.
It’s certainly a shift from the standard look of the previous movie and other ‘Shrek’ entries, and makes for a frenetic, yet clear visual palette. If the teams behind these films are going to keep experimenting and finding new ways to present these movies, it’s something to be encouraged.
Story-wise, this remains your basic quest mixed with pop culture references (though the latter side has been toned down some). Wacky villains are brought to life by a fine cast of voices beyond those we’ve already listed, including Olivia Colman as Mama Bear and Ray Winstone as Papa Bear.
Banderas is still the beating, comical heart of the film, but combined with the updated animation, Puss really does seem to have a new life in this story. He’s always been one of the more entertaining characters from this fairy tale-spoofing cinematic universe (and deserving of spin-off films), and ‘The Last Wish’ earns its place in the canon.
Hayek, meanwhile, is still a delight as Kitty, every bit Puss’ equal on the action front and even more cunning when the moment calls for it. And though some of the others don’t get as much to do (Colman, Winstone and Samson Kayo as the bears are rarely handled the best material, though Mulaney’s vocal style makes Jack work on a level he might not otherwise), this is more visually dynamic than vocal.
The nods to classic stories are smart and feed into the plot, directors Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado, along with writers Tommy Swerdlow and Paul Fisher keeping the whole affair light on its feet (as is befitting a crafty cat). And the jokes come thick and fast––if some don’t land, another is on the way to make up for it a few seconds later. It’s fast and fun.
And yes, there are of course callbacks to past Puss stories, including the deployment of nuclear-level cute faces from both Puss and Kitty (Perro trying his own with, let’s charitably call them, “mixed” results).
It’s never going to challenge the minutely crafted likes of ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ or ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’, but it’s far from a pumped-out moneymaking exercise. But unlike ‘Pinocchio’ it features little––aside, perhaps from a couple of moments with the wolf––likely to traumatize the youngest in the audience.
‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ receives 3.5 out of 5 stars.