Kids will get a kick out of the sprightly and silly Puss in Boots: The Last Wish – but really, this one is for the millennials. Antonio Banderas’s pint-sized feline rogue, with his thigh-high boots and eyes as big as saucers, became an instant hit when he was introduced in 2004’s Shrek 2. But his follow-up appearances, in the later Shrek sequels and a 2011 spin-off, have played as either wrung out or purely cynical. The Last Wish offers something different and unexpected: Puss has grown up with his audience.
He is now, in exquisitely millennial fashion, suffering from feline burnout. Having already torn through eight of his nine lives (reminder to never go running with the bulls in Pamplona if you’re 15in tall), Puss must now face his mortality. And so, he slinks into his crisis era, complete with a sizable beard and an unshakeable malaise. His end-of-life stupor is interrupted, however, by Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her three bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo). The Cockney-accented bandits are searching for the fabled Wishing Star, which can grant one person their heart’s desire.
Puss’s love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) makes her return to the franchise while John Mulaney plays Little Jack Horner, with his thumb in all the pies, as a washed-up child star. But the heart of the film, thanks to a standout performance from What We Do in the Shadows’s Harvey Guillén, is a squeaky-voiced, pot-bellied mutt without a home or a name (Puss comes to call him Perrito, aka “little dog”). Children will fall in love with Perrito. He is, after all, an adorable tiny puppy. But it’s the adults who will blub as Perrito teaches his world-weary companions not to let the cruelty of life bog them down.
Dreamworks has increasingly explored these more mature themes – which isn’t to say The Last Wish has abandoned the kind of irreverent parody that first made Shrek the ideal antidote for Disney's saccharine princess tales. There is, for example, a particularly ingenious take on Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket, who now sounds like James Stewart owing to the voicework of story supervisor Kevin McCann.
Using the same blend of 2D and 3D animation popularised by Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), Dreamworks continues to push the boundaries of mainstream animation. The Last Wish is visually gorgeous with an attention to detail you might not expect given it’s a sequel to a spin-off of a two-decade-old film. Goldilocks’s skirt is astonishing, a quilt-like ruckus of fabrics. The animation even faithfully captures the individual nuances of its A-list cast – especially Banderas and Hayek Pinault, who easily slip into the flirtatious dynamic of their characters in Robert Rodriguez’s Nineties El Mariachi trilogy. Sure, the kids won’t get that reference but it's just one of many delights that The Last Wish has to offer its more millennial-aged audience.
Dir: Joel Crawford. Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo. PG 102 minutes.
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