All things considered, this must be the least anticipated ‘sequel’ of the year. The Shrek franchise began way back in 2001 and, over the years, there have been three sequels of steadily diminishing quality. In 2011, Puss in Boots emerged as a Shrek spin-off and, it must be said, not a particularly memorable one. So Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is essentially a sequel to a spin-off. But those who take note of such things can’t fail to have missed the fact that the film has been nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA. This is because it has something up its sleeve that nobody expected. It’s really good.
In the adrenalin-fuelled opening sequence, we meet our titular hero (voiced once again by Antonio Banderas), who is singing and dancing for an adoring audience. Shortly thereafter, he takes on a whole army of warriors single-handedly, and rounds things off by doing battle with an ancient woodland bogeyman.
And then he er… dies.
Of course, he’s a cat and everyone knows that felines have nine lives, right? But, as a helpful doctor explains, Puss has just used up life number eight. From now on he needs to be very careful indeed, because – if he allows himself to be killed one more time – his heroic escapades will be over for good. So when he encounters the genuinely creepy Wolf (Wagner Moura), he realises that this is an enemy he can never hope to defeat, and for the first time in his life, he’s afraid. Almost before you can say ‘game over,’ he’s hiding out in Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph)’s cat refuge and pursuing a quiet, domesticated existence.
What follows is a clever meditation on the subject of death, but if that sounds like something you really don’t want to watch, let me assure you that yes, you actually do! As scripted by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow, this is a witty – sometimes hilarious -quest tale that never misses an opportunity to propel the franchise headlong into previously uncharted waters, while Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado’s flamboyant direction allows the animation department to steer the visuals into challenging new dimensions. Suffice to say that there are scenes here that challenge Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for eye-popping, jaw-dropping panache and make the original film look positively pedestrian.
There’s a welcome return for Puss’s ex-girlfriend, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and a new sidekick in the shape of the criminally adorable Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a wannabe therapy dog who’s just pretending to be a cat, in a desperate attempt to extend his friendship group. And since the Shrek series has always riffed on popular fairy tales, we’re offered a villainous Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), plus her adoptive ursine family (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo). There’s also arch-nemesis, Jack Horner (John Mulaney), a decidedly Trumpian creation, who – despite inheriting an entire pie-factory from his entitled parents – still insists on sticking his grubby thumbs into every opportunity that comes his way.
And did I mention the fabulous Latin American flavoured soundtrack by Heitor Pereira? I leave the cinema dancing.
While PIB:TLW might not be a comfortable fit for younger kids, for everyone from eight years and upwards, it’s a rollicking, rib-tickling adventure that never loses its momentum. My advice? Put aside your expectations and see this on the big screen. You won’t be disappointed.