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‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’: A serviceable, not stellar sequel

Antonio Banderas returns as the fabled feline swashbuckler in an amusing-ish animated adventure

4 min
(2.5 stars)

It’s a safe assumption that it will be mostly parents buying the tickets for “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” the latest installment in the adventures of the swashbuckling ginger cat. With that in mind, the takeaway from this review is this: The main villain, the Big Bad Wolf, is likely to give any kid under 7 nightmares. (Parents: You may long for the days of teething and sleep regression. This character is scary.)

Voiced by Wagner Moura, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in “Narcos,” BBW is only one of several villains here — and that’s a problem. Throughout the film, Puss (Antonio Banderas) has to face down a rogue’s gallery of fairy tale and nursery rhyme baddies: gangster Jack Horner (John Mulaney) and his crew, as well as Papa, Mama and Baby Bear (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo), who now run a smash-and-grab operation with adopted daughter Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), whose opposable thumbs come in handy for the grabbing. The real enemy, though, is time itself; after a swooping, flying, visually fun opening battle, Puss learns that he has just run through his eighth of nine lives.

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The imminent loss of quasi-immortality sends Puss into a funk. He’s then snatched up by Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a crazy cat lady who has unwittingly taken in a dog masquerading as a feline: Perro (Harvey Guillén), who dreams of becoming a therapy dog. Eliminating all risk is the only thing Puss can think of to do, so he eats and sleeps and not much else — until learning of a magical star that can reset his nine lives if he wishes on it. He reunites with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) from the last film and — with Perro in tow — sets off.

Villains, of course, have their wishes, too.

Rendered like the Grim Reaper, and wielding lethal hooks straight out of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” the Big Bad Wolf has his sights on Puss. Snow White’s stepmother notwithstanding, it’s rare for a children’s movie villain to so explicitly want to kill the hero, and the dark tone is jarring. Moura’s excellent voice performance matches the menacing visuals, and Puss’s abject terror is palpable whenever his pursuer is nearby. To be clear: The Big Bad Wolf’s portrayal isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but one parents should be aware of.

The rest of the movie is a pleasant enough jumble. Banderas — who originated the role of Puss 18 years, four movies and a pile of “Shrek” specials ago — still manages to find new vocal delivery for his famous introduction: “I am Puss (long pause) in boots”; “I. Am. Pussinboots.”; “I am! Puss! In! Booots!” He also continues to give the character surprising depth.

In her first foray into voice acting, Pugh proves to be just as good behind a mic as she is in front of a camera. At the same time, her character could have used some writers familiar with adoption and adoption trauma, particularly for those children living in a family that doesn’t look like them. The story features several character cameos from folklore — all from the Western canon, unfortunately — along with a few solid wink-wink-nudge-nudge jokes thrown in to keep parents from drowning in a pool of ennui. The battle scenes often border on the chaotic, without ever becoming too crowded or confusing.

“The Last Wish” arrives just in time to give families something to do after all the presents have been unwrapped and the threat of Santa’s naughty list isn’t enough to avert cries of “I’m so borrred.” And sometimes that’s enough: Kill an hour or two, laugh, call it a day. The bar isn’t terribly high here, but Puss and company clear it comfortably, landing — but of course — on their feet.

PG. At area theaters. Contains action violence, rude humor and language, and some scary moments. 100 minutes.