I have a very clear memory of watching 2004’s Shrek 2, seeing (and hearing) the new character of Puss in Boots for the first time, and thinking “Well, that’s my new favorite character in this franchise.” And that really hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years. Voiced by Antonio Banderas and clearly parodying his swashbuckling persona from the Zorro movies (with a little bit of a nod to his Mariachi character from Desperado and Once Upon A Time in Mexico), Puss eventually got his own solo film in 2011, and it has been far too long for the followup, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, in which the feline adventurer realizes that he has burnt through eight of his nine lives, and it may be time to hang up the rapier and boots or risk dying permanently. That’s right: a family-friendly animated movie that seriously contemplates mortality, and it’s exactly what the holiday season needs this year.
In his version of retirement, Puss ends up in a type of old cats’ home run by the kindly Mama Luna (Da’vine Joy Randolph), where he meets an overly excited dog disguised as a cat, named Perrito (What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillen, a great new addition to this universe), who seems all too eager to become Puss’s new best (and very clingy) friend. Puss finds out about the faraway Black Forest where he can find the mythical Wishing Star. If someone makes it through several obstacles along the way, they can make any wish they want, and Puss very much wants to wish for nine more lives. He enlists the help of his old lady friend Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and begins his new journey.
But others want that wish as well, including the villainous Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who really is a right bastard, as well as the mercenary crime family Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Olivia Colman as Mama, Ray Winstone as Papa, and Samson Kayo as Baby). In addition, the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) is tracking down Puss, looking ominously like the figure of Death as he does so. At first, Puss keeps it a secret that he’s going to take the wish for himself, despite the fact that Kitty needs it for her own, slightly less selfish reasons. But after a while, Puss learns the benefit of actually becoming friends with his traveling companions, and they are able to make it through the obstacles as a team.
Directed by Joel Crawford and produced by Mark Swift, the creative team behind The Croods: A New Age, the new Puss In Boots film is wildly funny, slightly demented, and reminds us that Banderas is an unsung, underrated comedy genius (watch his performance from earlier this year in Official Competition for additional, definitive proof), and there’s something extra special when he and Hayek team up. But the scene-stealing star of this film is Guillen’s Perrito, who seems slightly touched in the head but is such an infectious, lovable, gullible little freak, you can’t help but fall for his energy and charm.
For completely opposite reasons, Mulaney’s Jack Horner is an unexpectedly, unapologetically evil dude, who makes no attempt to be likable or get any kind of redemption arc. Meanwhile, Pugh caps off a banner year with this rough-around-the-edges take on Goldilocks, who runs her adopted crime family like an outsider with something to prove. The characters’ references to their original fairy tale origins are clever, and the movie’s overall kinetic energy keeps things moving and lively. But at its center, Banderas gives Puss the necessary bravado while still making him immature enough to have some growing left to do and also finding out what it is to be humble and need others. The story is appropriately simple yet layered, and most of the jokes land just right. The animation style is familiar but still colorful, inventive, and quite silly. As far as animation geared toward younger audiences, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish feels like older crowds were taken very much into consideration when they were writing and animating this gem.
The film is now in theaters.
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