Holy Frijoles! After more than a decade, the feline favourite is back on the big screen, fighting, flirting and… feeling the cold breath of death on his furry shoulders.
This fun, frenetic and fleet-footed sequel to Puss in Boots (2011) explores depths undreamed of in recent sweet-natured Netflix series spin-off The Adventures of… It isn’t afraid to stray over to the dark side, as when Puss’ fatal opening scrap with a tree troll leaves him with just one of his reckless lives left. He also has an unbeatable Big Bad Wolf bounty hunter on his tail (Wagner Moura, growling out Narcos-worthy menace).
Consigned to the daily litter-box-and-kibble torment of Mama Luna’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) cat sanctuary, Banderas’ gato macho sinks into a hilariously deadpan existential crisis. But co-directors Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado’s storytelling soon has him chasing a map leading to the fabled Wishing Star, desperate to restore his nine lives and legendary status.
Puss forms a bickering trio with old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) and clingy therapy-dog Perrito (a scene-stealing Harvey Guillén); setting off to rob the map from ‘Big’ Jack Horner (John Mulaney), our heroes’ quest becomes a family-friendly spaghetti western: The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly, basically.
In high Shrek-franchise style, the filmmakers cram The Last Wish with galloping action laced with sly, knowing fairytale gags. Take Florence Pugh’s grasping gangster Goldilocks and her quarreling cockney Three Bears crime family, who are also in hot pursuit of the Star in the Dark Forest. And then there’s Mulaney’s magic-snatching Jack Horner, a mobster so immoral that his Jiminy Cricket-style ‘Ethical Bug’ (voiced by Kevin McCann) can’t find his conscience.
Though there’s much to chortle at here, Paul Fisher’s smart scripting also provides notably chewy characters and themes for a comic romp whose warm, painterly animation suggests a classic storybook. As Puss, Kitty and Goldilocks wrestle with their wishes (and the Dark Forest’s trippily animated carnivorous plants and mind-bending glades), the story offers some graceful, understated lessons about the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’.
However, what really elevates this sophisticated sequel is Banderas’ rich voicework, which reveals that, under Puss’ suave bluster, there’s a moody moggie discovering fear for the first time. For once, as he faces up to the Wolf’s ferocious blades, the stakes are as big as the laughs for the stabby tabby.
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is out in UK cinemas from February 3. For what else is coming out soon, check out our guides to 2023 movie release dates.