Every great character’s arc must come to an end, or at least that’s how it used to be. Now, franchises are being constantly rebooted and reimagined, and even a supposed swan song may just be the last time audiences see someone until the next time they do. In the almost two decades since Puss in Boots was introduced in Shrek 2, Spider-Man, for instance, has already been brought back twice for multi-film appearances with different actors playing the role. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish gives its title character a fun send-off that might just not be his final appearance given his undeniable leading man appeal.
Those who haven’t kept up with the character or the franchise shouldn’t fear being lost, since this sequel does a good job of reintroducing its players with the appropriate fanfare. One of the film’s original songs finds Puss in Boots asking “Who is your favorite fearless hero?” early on as the showboat sings his own praises and revels in the attention being given to him. But he soon realizes that he hasn’t been counting how many lives he has left, and a humorous montage reveals that his unchecked fearlessness means that, the next time he dies, that’s it for him.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which is the follow-up to the 2011 film that first cast Puss in Boots as the main character, continues the Shrek universe’s trend of bringing in fairy tale characters to its greater story. Goldilocks and the Three Bears are major antagonists in this film, as is Big Jack Horner, taking popular established stories and adapting them into this comedic animated format, where they seek to find Puss in Boots and to follow a map that will unlock powerful magic.
One of the most appealing aspects about Puss in Boots has always been Antonio Banderas as the voice of the vivacious feline, and that remains true in this installment. He’s particularly effective as Puss in Boots contemplates his mortality and starts to consider what is important to him, and this film works well as it navigates dramatic ideas and what finality looks like. That exploration is done in a way that should be identifiable to adults but won’t traumatize children, a mark of any good animated film that can be viewed and enjoyed by all ages.
The voice cast includes a number of other terrific additions, with Salma Hayek returning as Kitty Softpaws. Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo are entertaining as Goldilocks and the bears, while John Mulaney and Wagner Moura provide vastly different villainous interpretations as Big Jack Horner and a bounty-hunting Wolf, respectively. But the standout, rivaling even Banderas, is Harvey Guillén as Perrito, an eager-to-please dog posing as a cat who just wants to be friends with Puss in Boots and jumps at any chance to see things in a positive light.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is not a genre-changing, revelatory film that stands apart from so many other animated productions. But it does know how to work well with established characters and send them on new adventures, demonstrating that a franchise that has been churning out film after film for years hasn’t lost steam, and may still have some fresh creativity and energy left in it. It’s a film that’s easy enough to like and enjoy, and should be generally pleasing to a wide variety of moviegoers. While its success does suggest Puss in Boots will, somehow, be back again, this would be a perfectly fitting final chapter if its title did indeed hold true and this represented his final bow.
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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opens in theaters on Wednesday, December 21st.