Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, 2022.
Directed by Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado.
Featuring the voice talents of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Wagner Moura, John Mulaney, Harvey Guillén, Samson Kayo, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Anthony Mendez, and Conrad Vernon.
Puss in Boots discovers that his passion for adventure has taken its toll: he has burned through eight of his nine lives. Puss sets out on an epic journey to find the mythical Last Wish and restore his nine lives.
Legend has it that all cats have nine lives. Co-directors Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado (with a script from Paul Fisher) have seen fit to catch up with the bounty hunter-turned-adventurer Puss (once again voiced by Antonio Banderas, essentially playing a heightened and animated version of his roguish and romantic on-screen persona) for a surprisingly thoughtful and existential riff on that concept with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
After causing a fuss at a governor’s party while, in the process, defeating an awakened nearby angry giant, Puss meets his demise for what turns out to be the eighth time. As the doctor stresses to Puss that he’s down to his last life (there is also a pleasantly silly montage depicting how he lost each of those lives), it’s advised that it might be time to give up treasure hunting, sword fighting, and swashbuckling for good, even if it means becoming something he despises: a house pet. Taking the words to heart, Puss buries his trademark gear while checking himself into a home for cats run by well, a crazy cat lady (voiced by Da’Vine Joy Randolph).
Meanwhile, the various fairytale animals that have inhabited this Shrek universe throughout the years, specifically some new ones here in the form of Goldilocks (voiced by Florence Pugh, who has found another calling in her already stellar career) and the family of three bears (Olivia Colman voices Mama Bear, Ray Winstone voices Papa Bear, and Samson Kayo voices Baby Bear) searching for a mythical Wishing Star capable of granting any wish one time. The bears are her muscle, so to speak, under the impression that the wish will be made for the four of them to run a family business.
Then there is Big Jack Horner (voiced by John Mulaney), a truly lost cause that wants to wish for sole possession of all the magic in the world. He carries with him a bottomless bag of fairytale resources for his quest, at one point unintentionally bringing out everyone’s favorite conscience-guiding cricket who amusingly tries over and over to reach an emotional breakthrough with the humongous bully, hoping to find some humanity or reason for his evil ways, coming away empty-handed and less patient every time. It’s a welcome running gag that taps into what has always been one of the better aspects of these Shrek universe movies: finding absurd uses for the fairytale characters.
As Puss tries adapting to domestic advice (growing a long beard in the process), he also meets a tiny orphaned dog posing as a cat for a place to stay. Nicknamed Perro and voiced by Harvey Guillén, the hyperactive dog is filled with naivety and innocence, simply seeking a friend. Following an interaction with Puss and Goldilocks, where the former learns of the Wishing Star and that he would be able to wish for his lives back, it quickly becomes time for another adventure, this time bringing along Perro. Along the way, they run into Puss’ former flame and partner in crime, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by a returning Salma Hayek Pinault), catching up on their history between the years.
While this seems like a stacked cast of characters for a brisk, animated flick, the filmmakers are genuinely interested in exploring the nine lives concept, even introducing Death (voiced by Wagner Moura) by way of The Big Bad Wolf, ominously appearing and intimidating whenever Puss finds himself in a physical conflict that could be the last of him for good. His life flashes before his eyes, further tapping into something self-reflexive about a life lived, whether or not it has been fulfilling, what really matters, and how to go about the future. The connection that many of these characters are orphans is also not lost on the script, with many craving more than necessary to be happy (Perro is happy enough to have friends, while Goldilocks’ subplot is also unexpectedly moving).
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is also vibrant fun, frequently switching up animation styles (the action sequences almost play out like comic book strips) with impressive visuals, including a forest that transforms itself into something brighter and safer or darker and perilous based on who is holding the magical map and the decisions they have made in life. There’s also a tremendously catchy opening musical number to set the stage that, as thematically weightier as this is for an animated feature, the filmmakers are also here to deliver 100 minutes of dazzling joy. Bolstered by a magnificent ensemble allowing his characters to pop off the screen with personality, they have succeeded. It’s a sequel that has those irresistible sympathetic huge cat eyes; you can’t help but be won over by it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com