It's been 12 years since the last Shrek movie and 11 years since the Puss in Boots spinoff. So why, after all this time, is there a sequel bringing back the swashbuckling feline? Was that something we really needed? I don't know, but I can say with confidence that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is way better than expected. By freeing itself of the visual and storytelling style of its predecessors, the film is free to be its own thing – and what it is, is an endlessly enjoyable family film with a sweet message about finding satisfaction in life, even if not everything is perfect.
Puss (once again voiced by Antonio Banderas) has used up eight of his nine lives. He wants to continue seeking adventure. His doctor, however, tells him that retiring would be a preferable option. With that in mind, he ends up in a sanctuary run by “crazy cat lady” Mama Luna (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). There, he faces indignities like having to share food with other felines and using a litter box. Puss also meets Perro (Harvey Guillén), a mangy little dog pretending to be a cat in order to receive some pampering.
Meanwhile, a mythical Wishing Star has fallen to earth, and it has only one wish left. The first person to get to it will reap that benefit. Nasty Jack Horner (John Mulaney) has every intention of getting there first and using the wish for egomaniacal purposes. Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) is in the race, too, utilizing her three bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) to shove everyone else out of the way. She has her own selfish motivation. Puss decides that he needs to escape Mama Luna's clutches and risk his final life in order to stop them all. Perro accompanies him, as does former partner/girlfriend Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), with whom he's reunited. What Puss keeps secret is the knowledge that if he can get to the star first, he can wish for more lives.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has a different style than its forbearers. The traditional DreamWorks Animation character design is melded with staccato animation similar to what we saw in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Action scenes present intentionally choppy movement designed to make the pace feel faster. Backgrounds in those scenes often become anime-like, comprised of “movement lines” and colors that recede, allowing the characters to contrast boldly against them. The result is phenomenal-looking.
On a deeper level, the story has imaginative elements that keep you hooked. The star lands inside the Dark Forest. A map exists, but there's a twist – the path varies, depending on who's holding it. Puss and Kitty, for example, would face wildly perilous routes, whereas Perro gets a path that takes them through a field of lovely posies (which, it should be pointed out, get quite nasty if people attack them). Humor is abundant in the movie, too, avoiding the endless pop culture gags that have long been a DreamWorks staple in favor of character- and situation-based comedy. Voice performances are outstanding, with Banderas once again hilariously conveying Puss's bravado and Pugh making an appealingly ruthless Goldilocks.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a sequel that doesn't feel like a sequel. Yes, the characters are familiar; the tone and visual scheme are new, though. Shaking things up prevents the movie from seeming like a dull rehash. The finale even offers a bit of depth not found in the previous Puss in Boots installment. All the way around, this is a superior entry in the Shrek/Puss franchise.
out of four
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is rated PG for action/violence, rude humor/language, and some scary moments. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.