Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a lot more fun, stylish, and ambitious than one would expect from a sequel to a franchise spin-off that’s arriving around a decade after its predecessor. Boasting an eye-catching visual sensibility, a wonderful voice cast, and a story that’s more compelling than most other mainstream animated offerings this year, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish might be the only outright family friendly option at the cinema this holiday season, but at least it’s a pretty great one that will keep everyone entertained.
The titular four-pawed, two-booted swashbuckler returns for more adventures – once again voiced by Antonio Banderas, channeling the same energy that made his appearances as Zorro such a delight – but this time the stakes are higher. Puss realizes that he is down to the last of his nine lives, and the next time he dies in the course of combat (or, more likely, hubris fuelled misadventure) will be his last. He has the fear of death finally put into him by the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura), a bounty hunter who’d rather take Puss in dead than alive. Forced into hiding and retirement spent at the home of a crazy cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and pestered by an overly eager and homely looking pooch (Harvey Guillén), Puss is coaxed back into action when he learns of a magical wishing star located deep in a dark enchanted forest that will grant anyone who finds it one wish. Puss sees the star as a way to reset the clock and get his other eight lives back. Naturally, others are on the hunt for the star, as well, including a crime family of three bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) and their leader Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), evil pie magnate and collector of all things magical Jack Horner (John Mulaney), and Puss’ former love and fellow thief, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault).
Puss in Boots: The Final Wish is chock full of visually inspired comedic chaos, but the backbone of the story is both dark and thoughtful. One wouldn’t expect a film about an animated feline wrestling with their own mortality and regrets to be this much fun, but everything here works wonderfully. The characters and their overlapping quests to find the wishing star are compelling and well rounded, even the scene stealing comedic relief character voiced by Moura. The voice cast is peppered with big names capable of delivering wonderful character work and whip-smart comedic timing.
Puss in Boots: The Final Wish moves like a classic adventure or quest picture, but told with a distinctly modern sense of purpose and humour. When side characters meet their end, it’s often in a way that’s silly, but bordering on PG-13 levels of darkness. Similarly the humour is a bit more naughty this time out, but probably nothing the kids haven’t heard before (and worse) on the playground. Those touches go a long way to establishing the throwback appeal of Puss in Boots: The Final Wish. If we can’t get Banderas back doing another Zorro film any time soon and Indiana Jones’ next adventure is still several months away, this is a pretty decent placeholder.
It’s also a testament to director Joel Crawford, co-director Januel Mercado, and the entire team over at Dreamworks that Puss in Boots: The Final Wish looks so outstanding. It’s a film that’s as kinetic as the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but with even more nods to classical painting and traditional anime techniques. Every sequence in Puss in Boots: The Final Wish is stunning to look at, and even at its most go-for-broke chaotic, it’s so lovingly designed to the smallest detail that one can see what appear like brushstrokes throughout. In terms of overall quality, this is on par with the original Shrek and the How to Train Your Dragon movies when it comes to showcasing the innovation happening over at Dreamworks. With this being a sequel to a spin-off featuring a character that has only popped up on television and brief direct-to-video adventures in the intervening years, it might be cynical to expect this to be a phoned in cash grab, but nothing could be further from the truth here. This is a big time, big screen movie.
Granted, there aren’t more than a handful of side splitting laughs for adults to be found here (but there are certainly a few), but the story and visuals are so elegantly composed that Puss in Boots: The Final Wish is consistently charming entertainment for all ages. It will keep the kids suitably dazzled, and adults will certainly appreciate the thought that went into it. It’s a wonderful bit of entertainment that earns the highest praise I could give to a popcorn movie: as soon as it ended, I was just waiting for the moment I could watch it again.
Puss in Boots: The Final Wish opens in theatres everywhere on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.
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