Until this year, my only Puss in Boots-related wish was that I would never have to sit through another film from the Shrek franchise as long as I lived. I must confess, the unexpectedly entertaining Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has entirely changed my mind!
Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) squandered eight of his nine lives with a devil-may-care panache. He sang, danced and swashbuckled his way through a legendary series of adventures but his melodious pursuit of a giant may have seen the bell toll for the last time on those carefree days. Then a standoff with a foe who cannot be quipped into submission shakes the marmalade marauder to his core.
What happens when the charismatic poster puss of living for tomorrow suddenly fears he will not make it through today? Mortality is a mighty foe.
For Puss, the answer is to put his life of crime to rest; burying his broad-brimmed hat, cape and trademark Corinthian leather boots and any expectation of further adventure beside them. Soon his razor-sharp claws are sheathed in mittens and he is growing fluffy and docile in the home of Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) with dozens of languid cat brethren and an alarmingly optimistic chihuahua for company.
Of course, Puss cannot be without those boots for long. His past comes knocking in the shape of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her furry crime family and with them a glimmer of hope in the shape of a powerful star. With insistent sidekick Perrito the chihuahua (Harvey Guillén) along for the ride and a combative reunion with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) keeping him on his tabby toes, Puss is ready for adventure again. But is he ready to face his own Big Bad Wolf…
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish does something refreshing for a children’s film, it takes a long, unflinching look at anxiety; exploring it with a frankness that people of any age who have been frozen with similar dread will appreciate. Dreamworks’ latest production is certainly not the first time animation studios have ventured into mental health territory in recent years but the vivid depictions of panic are singular and they truly captivate.
The peerless Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse continues to be a force for good in this world, this time by inspiring The Last Wish’s tactile and visually-engaging animation; its vivid storybook aesthetic is a far cry from the CG monotony of this franchise’s last outing and helps sell the heavier moments. As is the way with family features, there are still some everything but the kitchen sink scenes but there are also moments of striking artistry in silhouettes, angular crystals, the stomp of a giant and the swish of a skirt.
Adults may indulge in a couple of eye rolls at the more generic song and dance numbers but everything gambols along at such a jolly pace that there’s little time for irritation to linger. The narrative picks up pace as heroes and foes race to find a desperately needed wish hidden at the heart of an enchanted wood. Puss’s ultimate foe doggedly keeps step with his progress and slyly undermines his returning confidence. In fact, the Wolf (Wagner Moura) is a genuinely chilling baddie and younger children will need a handhold for some of his more intense moments. If their grown-ups aren’t already clutching them for comfort…
Plot threads get messy on the chase and here your mind will wander. With the least coherent character animation and a shoehorned story tangent, John Mulaney’s Jack Horner is surplus to requirement and his contribution drags. Still, he does have a Jimmy Stewart-esque cricket (Kevin McCann) in his dastardly bag of tricks so it’s not all bad. And the irresistible charm of the central friendship journey paired with Heitor Perreira’s buoyant score further wash away the tedium.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a heartfelt adventure caper that tackles anxiety with surprising empathy and wit. A few cast members should have been lost in the woods but overall this one’s a winner!
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opens across the UK on 3rd February