We were first introduced to dashing animated feline Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in "Shrek 2" all the way back in 2004. The character appeared in two more "Shrek" sequels before headlining his own self-titled movie in 2011. Now comes "The Last Wish," a sequel that depends on audiences still caring about the character after more than a decade out of the limelight. The film's disappointing box office over Christmas weekend ($17 million domestic, barely half of what the first solo film did on Halloween weekend in 2011) indicates that he no longer has his former drawing power. But having seen the film, I say that he should.
The new film opens with a classic Puss in Boots adventure: Puss throws a party at the home of an uptight governor and saves a village from a rampaging cyclops. Things are going great until he gets killed. End of movie. Just kidding, he's a cat, he has nine lives. Problem is, that was life number eight. If he gets killed one more time, he'll die. After a close call with an apparently-bounty-hunting wolf (Wagner Moura), he decides to retire to the home of a cat hoarder (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). A life of pet food and litter boxes isn't for him, and he's further annoyed by an unsuccessful therapy dog (Harvey Guillen) hiding out among the cats. He's soon clued-in to a race to steal the mythical Wishing Star, which grants a single wish to whoever can get to it first. He can wish for his nine lives back! He could also wish for unlimited lives, but the point is - magical quest! It's a magical quest where he has to drag along the clingy therapy dog, but a quest nonetheless.
Also in pursuit of the star are former lover and current rival Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), pie magnate and magic collector Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), and the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Crime Family, consisting of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone), Mama Bear (Olivia Coleman), and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo). Goldilocks and the Three Bears have such a fun dynamic and chemistry that I'd like to see them get their own spinoff. Sadly that's unlikely with this film's underperformance, but what we get of them here is delightful.
What we get of everyone here is delightful. The cast is filled with actors that are funny every time they open their mouths. This is especially true of Banderas, who exaggerates his voice so much that I was laughing even when he was delivering straight lines. The writing is funny too, with some endearingly dark humor. The highlight of the film is a montage of Puss's deaths, handled in a family-friendly, "Haunted Mansion" sort of way. The therapy dog steals the show, with his unbridled positivity in the face of a lifetime of bullying. Real bullying isn't funny, the character's attitude in spite of bullying is. And it should go without saying in a movie about animated cats and dogs, but the film's cuteness level is raging.
"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" may not be the strongest of adventure movies. The characters' motivations don't always make sense (too many are frustratingly unambitious with their wishes), the story follows predictable beats of reluctant alliances, betrayals, and forgiveness, and the animation has a weird habit of turning into a cheap 2-D style during action sequences. But it works just fine as a comedy, and a family comedy at that. By all means take the kids and relatives to see it this holiday season. It's implied that there's a sequel with some familiar friends on the horizon, but this movie needs your business first.
"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" is rated PG for action/violence, rude humor/language, and some scary moments. Its running time is 100 minutes.