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By Christopher James
It’s been 18 years since Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots first flashed his huge eyes onscreen in box office smash and Cannes in-competition film Shrek 2. Though the Shrek franchise faded with each half-baked sequel, Puss in Boots got the origin story treatment in a 2011 installment. A decade later you’d assume that this Puss in Boots: The Last Wish would feel stale and dated. Instead it’s a charming winner filled with imagination and fun! The story is a familiar one, centering around wish fulfillment and a grand race. Yet, there is plenty of juice left in this fairy tale world. The film blends childlike mania with poignant themes of belonging to make this perfect programming for families looking for a movie this holiday season.
When we catch up with Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), he’s leading a sing-a-long about his prowess while getting in a fight with both a town and a giant…
Though successful, Puss “loses another life.” This doesn’t faze him — he’s been pretty cavalier about his mortality since he has nine lives.
However, the ominous Big Bad Wolf (hauntingly voiced by Wagner Moura), catches up with Puss and informs him that he is on his last life and there is a heavy bounty on his head. Puss decides to hang up his hat as a renegade and settle down as a house cat in Mama Luna’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) cat-filled home. Effectively in retirement, Puss befriends Perro (Harvey Guillen) a joyfully dim dog masquerading as a cat. Perro emerges as the standout character of this entry, a lovable and loyal companion who’s a heartfelt foil to Puss’ debonair bravado.
Puss’ life of complacency is disrupted when a “wishing star” who could restore our hero’s nine lives crash lands in the Black Forest. To reach the star, he’ll have to team up with his former scorned lover, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, always a joy).
Puss, Kitty and Perro aren’t the only people after the wishing star. Some of the most delightful moments come from an Essex-accented Goldilocks and her family of Three Bears. They’ve been in search of the wishing star for years. Florence Pugh offers a committed vocal performance as this tough-as-nails Goldilocks. The three bears feature deft voive work from Olivia Colman (Mama), Ray Winstone (Papa and Samson Kayo (Baby). They prove more than just comic relief, providing one of the most heartfelt moments of the film.
On paper, the big bad is “Big” Jack Horner, voiced with tremendous gusto by John Mulaney. He’s the frightful embodiment of childhood petulance gone unchecked. Now the head of a giant pie conglomerate, Jack wants all of his needs satiated at all times. Thus, he’ll do anything he can to get his hands on the star.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish combines a zany Rat Race plot with a somber meditation on mortality. In truth the two modes do sometimes feel at odds with one another. Yet all in all this big swing is appreciated, as it adds more depth to the Puss character. How can he feel brave if he has just one life to live? Where does bravery come from? Also, what happens when the one thing that has defined us in life goes away?
Way back in 2001, the first Shrek movie was looked as a big step forward for animation but the franchise became a shallow carbon copy of itself. You shouldn’t necessarily expect Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to push the boundaries of animation but it’s a franchise refreshed. The fight sequences take stylistic cues from anime, and kineticism to an already delightful film. So don’t judge this film by the franchise that it spin off from. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an enjoyable standalone romp. Kids and parents alike will get something out of it. B
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish will be released in theaters by Universal Pictures on Wednesday, December 21st.
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