Directors – Joel Crawford, Januel Mercado – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 102m
As he and others search for the legendary Wishing Star, the eponymous fairy tale character fears for his own mortality after losing eight of his nine lives – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 5th
It’s been almost two decades since Dreamworks’ Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jensen, 2001) turned the animated fairy tale on its head, upending convention to hilarious effect. However, this trick is near impossible to repeat and in animated Hollywood, the success of such a film inevitably engenders a demand for more. Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon, 2004) introduced Puss In Boots (voice: Antonio Banderas) and the character was given its own spin-off Puss In Boots (Chris Miller, 2011). Over a decade later, here’s the Puss In Boots sequel.
It starts off promisingly enough with Puss In Boots, voiced once again by Banderas, hosting a party for local townsfolk at his mansion. Only it isn’t his: in a nod to Robin Hood by way of Anti-Capitalism, he’s co-opted the lavish home of the local landowner for the people, and when the landowner turns up, he’s understandably annoyed – cue an hilarious dialogue exchange about “Su casa, mi casa”) – but no match for Puss’ skill with a rapier.
As if to underscore its abandonment of radical ideas in favour of humour and sword-bashing, the film throws in a gratuitous giant for Puss to battle and defeat via the inventive (dong!) use of a church bell on a rope (dong!), squandering much of the reason you might be rooting for Puss in the first place (dong!). Just as Puss is declaring victory, the bell (dong!) fatally falls on his head. Which is fine, but nowhere near to matching the promise of the opening.
Puss then learns from the local doctor that he has, in fact, died. Being a cat, he has nine lives. But how many has he used and how many has he left. He rattles through memories of all four of them… Erm… he never was much of a math guy, make that eight. He’s down to his ninth and last life.
He goes for a drink in a bar (milk, naturally, cats like milk, and it’s a kids’ film) and is accosted by a tall figure (voice: Wagner Moura) with a black cape and glowing red eyes who wields two scythes. He’s actually revealed to be a wolf. The Grim Reaper, you might think – he certainly has the demeanour – but no, Puss tags him as a bounty hunter. Maybe the screenwriters have seen one Star Wars film too many.
(Spoiler: black cape is indeed the Grim Reaper. He comes for Puss dragging his scythes along the floor with a horrible screeching sound, uttering lines in praise of fear. Wait? Isn’t this a kids’ film? Is it going to be one of those amazing kids’ films which deals with the idea of death in such as way as children can start to get their heads round it? I mean, it is Dreamworks, and Shrek completely broke the mould. Or is it just going to be mindless, contemporary, kiddie animated Hollywood fare with Death as the throwaway villain? – which would be a terrible waste. I’ll let you guess. Its three-star rating is a clue.)
The good doctor has advised Puss to go to Mama Luna’s home for retired cats, where he buries his sword and costume in the grounds and finds inside the house the eponymous, ageing, octogenarian black woman (voice: Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who loves coddling cats. He fails to avoid being friended by a talkative dog Perrito (voice: Harvey Guillén from the What We Do In The Shadows TV series) who accompanies him on his quest for the Wishing Star after Goldilocks (British voice: Florence Pugh, upstaging every other member of the voice cast) and the Three Bears Crime Family: (British voices: Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) bust into Mama Luna’s in search of Puss In Boots.
Actually, it doesn’t start where I first stated it did. There’s a preamble about a Wishing Star which, if you can find a legendary map, will grant one wish to one lone person, and it’s this hackneyed idea which underpins the film. Goldilocks and bears are but one of the groups out to find the star and claim that sole wish for themselves, the others being: Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), Puss’ rival from Puss In Boots, and privileged, rich boy gangster and profitable pie company heir Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney) who stumbles upon a Jiminy Cricket-like bug (Kevin McCann), who is his conscience, only for Big Jack to kill him off at the first opportunity. It’s funny, yet, I wondered what had happened to basic morality? This is a film for kids: what values are they going to learn from this? And Big Jack isn’t just the villain; he’s irredeemably nasty.
Vacuous morality aside, it’s a peculiar mix of funny one-liners and outrageous action sequences so over the top that you soon cease to care. Or at least, that was how it felt to me. The audience (parents and kids) seemed to love it and gave the film a standing ovation. As for me, I didn’t find it anything like as savagely funny or groundbreaking as Shrek, which is where the world in the Puss In Boots films originally came from. Maybe I was simply expecting too much.
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, February 5th.