Apparently it’s been the year of belated sequels. 36 years between the first Top Gun and Maverick, 13 between Avatars, and now Puss in Boots: The Last Wish 11 years post the palatable Puss in Boots: No Subtitle. The plus for The Last Wish is that it doesn’t carry the burden of following a beloved box office smash, and that leaves a little more room for re-invention.
Visually, the Shrek-sensibility is recognisable, though in a massive improvement Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has scootched a fair bit closer towards Into the Spider-verse territory (long may its eye-candy reverberations last). The new entry is still driven by the ‘cheeky’ humour spawned by the first Shrek, but thankfully with a minimised focus on pop culture. The jokes are split evenly between three castes; those for your kids (there were plenty of giggles when Puss would break out into a tirade of bleeped curses), those for you (Jiminy Cricket, stuck lecturing an irredeemable villain, speaks with a heavy Jimmy Stewart impression), and, the ideal, those you can share (said villain brings along the sword in the stone as a weapon, though since he’s obviously not worthy, the stone is still attached, which is downright silly and damn-near clever).
In the way of plot: Puss, after burning bridges with partner in crime Kitty Softpaws, is down to the last of his nine lives, perpetually stalked by a dual-scythe wielding embodiment of death (a crimson eyed, sharp-toothed big bad wolf who will unnerve younger viewers, especially when resulting in Puss’ panic-attack). His last hope; enter a magically terraforming forest, aided by a cutesy Sancho Panza-esque therapy-dog in training, and invoke the last wish for a fresh start with 9 more lives.
Naturally, he’s got competition in this The Good, The Bad and The Ugly-style race; a strong cast of voices in an unrecognisable Florence Pugh as Goldilocks with her three cockney bears, and a grotesque, Trump-ish little Jack Horner, now the Mr. Big of a sort-of fairy-tale crime syndicate (a cartoonish John Mulaney). As a rule, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’s cast is a cut above the typical celebrity ensembles of modern kids’ films. Everybody’s putting in effort, and Banderas turns in his best outing as the stabby tabby, effortless as ever, parrying charismatically once again with Selma Hayek. The narcissistic Puss is a character with more pretext to learn lessons than the typical, sweet hearted cartoon heroes.
A few kids’ movies have taken off this year, while some of the stronger outings have been relegated to the streaming world. Just last week, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio wiped the floor with them all, but it’s nevertheless tough to imagine that film, dark and thoughtful and less commercial than its competition, taking off in theatres. The biggest animated hit of the year was Minions: The Rise of Gru, and that makes a fair bit of sense. It may toast your child’s brain into a peanut, rolling around without ever touching the sides, but the crew behind the Minions know that they’re competing for your kid’s attention with an onslaught of entertainment at home with no regard for pace, earnestness, or any of the other qualities that mark the best children’s stories. It is therefore encouraging that in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, you’ll be able take them to a blisteringly fast, goofy little movie, with no cause to reinvent the wheel, but which nevertheless has a sense of adventure, and encourages you to be kind, unselfish and to see what bravery ought to be for.