It’s a pleasant surprise when the film that isn’t quite Shrek 5 turns out to be the best of that sequence. It’s an even bigger surprise to discover that Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is a compelling companion piece to Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, in which a declining film practitioner (Antonio Banderas) ponders his mortality.
The sequel to Puss’s 2011 stand-alone adventure sees the swashbuckling feline in fearful contemplation upon realising that he is down to the last of his nine lives. “My prescription,” says the cat’s doctor and barber, “no more adventures. You need to retire.”
Thus, pursued by a glaive-wielding Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura), Puss buries his iconic footwear and settles down to a life defined by kibble and naps at a cat lady’s refuge.
The nicest-looking animation to emerge from the DreamWorks imprint takes cues from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and spaghetti western films – notably The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – as Puss takes up with his scorned old flame, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), and a cheerful unwanted therapy dog (Harvey Guillén) on a search for a wishing star that can recoup his lost lives.
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Rival adventurers, including Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the monstrous Jack Horner (John Mulaney), follow in hot pursuit.
Kevin McCann’s Jimmy Stewart-inspired Conscience Cricket makes for fun commentary on last year’s many Pinnochios. The chaotic cod-fairy-tale references don’t always land – the Baker’s Dozen, anyone? – but few actors are as suited to their animated avatars as Banderas is to Puss. There is a lot to like here, not least Ray Winstone’s Papa Bear. The forests are Skittle-coloured. The set pieces are wild and kinetic. But it is Banderas’s star power that saves the day.