Puss in Boots: The Last Wish: there’s life in the old cat yet
Move over Brendan Fraser: you’re not the only noughties family film icon making a comeback this week. Eleven years after his last cinema appearance, here is Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots again – or rather Poos in Booze, as the name is rendered in the velvety Spanish purr that helped make the character a favourite in the later Shrek films. And clearly, the industry at least is glad to have him back, since the film has been nominated in the Best Animation categories at the coming Oscars and Baftas.
After a long career of Zorro-like swashbuckling, The Last Wish finds Puss on the ninth and last of his lives, but in no mood to shuffle off to the franchise graveyard just yet. So when word reaches him of a wishing star that has fallen in a faraway forest, he sets out to retrieve it, in the hope its powers will allow him to postpone the inevitable for a little while yet. Other interested parties are also on the trail, however, including a Vivienne Westwood-esque Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her three bear accomplices (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo), and also Jack Horner (John Mulaney), a no-longer-so-little fruit pie magnate harbouring an inferiority complex over his nursery-rhyme roots.
This is supposedly a film about coming to terms with death – and Death itself even makes a series of deliciously scary cameo appearances, in the form of a wolf (voiced by Narcos’ Wagner Moura) whose red eyes, thin smile and silver sickles glint from beneath his black hooded cloak. But aside from the chills elicited by this genuinely spooky figure, the film is almost defiantly hopeless at emotion: the tone is teeth-gnashingly manic throughout, while the underlying point of Puss’s quest is obscured by continuous flurries of slapstick and quips.
Sometimes it’s quite funny – the sequence in which Puss and Salma Hayek’s Kitty Softpaws try to out-cute one another by pulling increasingly adorable faces is a nice escalation of a series running gag. And occasionally it’s spectacular too, thanks to frequent…well, let’s be generous and say homages to classic action scenes from Japanese anime. (Buffs will recognise shots borrowed from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Attack on Titan within the first five minutes alone, in which Puss loses life number eight in a battle with a moss giant.)
Rather than ploughing on with Shrek’s now dated visual style, DreamWorks has smartly adopted the stylish hybrid look pioneered by Sony Animation’s Into the Spider-Verse, which combines elements of hand-drawn and CG. There’s an entire pick ’n’ mix stand of eye candy here – more than enough to satisfy younger viewers. But alas, it’s all empty calories.
PG cert, 102 min. In cinemas from Friday February 3