A near purr-fect animated sequel with great visuals and amazing stars.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is not only the sequel to the 2011 animated hit, which was inspired by Antonio Banderas’s swashbuckling feline from the “Shrek” franchise, but also a happy marriage of good ideas. It wants to change its tune, by using an “Akira” meets “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” quality for its animated action sequences, giving them a more colorful “Sin City” feel to them, while appealing to its target audience. It allows such a charming young actor like Harvey Guillen to give himself a chance to one day become the kind of goofy Disney comic relief character that Josh Gad specialized in “Frozen.” It redesigns some of the fairy tale characters with the kind of attitude that makes adults admire their voices and kids tickled by some of their antics. And it allows Banderas and Salma Hayek to continue to have the kind of movie chemistry they began successfully in “Desperado.”
The story is not self-congratulatory, and is a bit more complex and challenging than I expected, as Puss in Boots is down to his last life, since cats are said to have 9 lives. He used up all 8 lives, and unless he’s in the mood to stare death at his face, he must retire pronto. Unless, he can find the magic wishing star that could grant him more lives.
The Guillen character I’m referring to is a sweater-wearing dog named Perrito, who disguises himself as a therapy dog in a cat home, and is more than eager to join Puss on his trek. I did a video chat with him last summer, and he’s as optimistic and fun as his character. He’s the kind of actor, whom I’d love to see in a future Disney film. He’s had some voice roles on shows, but in a film, he can be expendable.
The Banderas and Hayek reunion comes in as Hayek reprises her 2011 role of Kitty Softpaws, who is also after the star, and has a grudge towards Puss for something that happened in their past. The challenging part of their journey is how the map they hold changes courses based on your personality. If you’re either Puss or Kitty, you get dangerous challenges, but if you’re Peritto, you get seemingly harmless adventures.
The fairy tale characters look and act different from their original “Shrek” drawings. There’s the Three Bears crime family, where Goldilocks (voiced by Florence Pugh) is their boss. Papa (voiced by Ray Winstone) wears the scarf and acts more polite than he looks, Mama (voiced by Olivia Colman) wears the beret, and Baby (voiced by Samson Kayo) feels overshadowed by Goldilocks, since they apparently also adopted her.
There’s also Big Jack Horner (voiced by John Mulaney), who looks like he stuck his thumb in too many Christmas pies, and owns every fantasy artifact-from unicorn horns to the cookie and drink that shrink or grow Alice. As some of us know, the basis of his character is suggested that Thomas Horner-the servant to Richard Whiting-stole the deed to a mansion that was meant for Henry VIII, so it would make sense that Little Jack Horner would become Big Jack Horner.
And finally, there’s the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by Wagner Moura), who acts like a bounty hunter wanting to take Puss in Boots in dead or alive. He’s the one he doesn’t want to stare in the face, and I just love how this wolf explains how his name literally means “DEATH.”
Some of the “Shrek” tie-ins seem a but obvious, but I was looking at this sequel with great interest to what it wants to accomplish. It doesn’t think it’s better than the original “Shrek,” because that would be impossible to top that masterpiece, which became the first animated movie to win the Oscar in the animation category; it wants to take this swashbuckling feline to levels he never thought could be reachable. This cat still has the goods, and so does Banderas.