Photo Courtesy DreamWorks Animation
”Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” features a more stylized look than any other DreamWorks film, and comes alive in stunning action sequences.

Photo Courtesy DreamWorks Animation ”Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” features a more stylized look than any other DreamWorks film, and comes alive in stunning action sequences.

On the screen: ‘Puss in Boots’ exceeds expectations

All told, a sequel to 2011’s “Puss in Boots” simply didn’t have to go this hard

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.”

From its opening moments, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” channels something entirely different from any other film put out by DreamWorks Animation and especially the “Shrek” franchise it is still very much a part of. The film is the latest of a growing number of animated films to take a more stylized approach, as the pursuit of greater visual fidelity begins to grow fruitless.

“The Last Wish” is more colorful and absolutely more fun than its 2011 predecessor, and packs expertly realized themes of mortality, family, friendship and legacy into a tight 102-minute runtime.

The film follows the familiar feline fairy-tale hero — still voiced impeccably by Antonio Banderas — as he grapples with his own mortality, chasing an opportunity to wish his nine lives back. Along the way, he teams up with returning cat burglar Kitty Softpaws, played by Salma Hayek, and a therapy dog brought to life by Harvey Guillén.

The film makes more entertaining use of its fairy tale setting than the first to source its villains — Florence Pugh shines as Goldilocks, and John Mulaney is effectively off-putting as a not-so-Little Jack Horner.

“The Last Wish” pulls no punches in its themes, coming across as refreshingly mature for an animated family film released only days before Christmas. Puss in Boots is faced with his mortality after losing his eighth life. Throughout the film he is relentlessly pursued by Death, a literal personification of the concept as a large and menacing wolf with two sickles. Through that central struggle, we see Puss grapple with mental illness, his lack of connections, and the value, or lack thereof, that he’s placed in his lives.

Puss has to consider retirement or a bloody end — either way, a clear conclusion to his story.

Every character has their own wish, through which the film manifests other themes. Goldilocks seeks a family, despite already having a loving family of bears surrounding her. Kitty Softpaws seeks just one person she can trust — after living a roguish life of double-crosses.

The animation is the crowning achievement of “The Last Wish.” The art is so different than most other animated films, taking on a cartoon or comic book feel. It’s used to make this film feel entirely unique, part of a discernible trend toward more fanciful animation in other contemporaries like “Turning Red” or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

In part because of that style, the action may be some of the best ever featured in an animated film. The opening sequence, especially, is an uproarious set piece that grows larger and larger with absolute abandon. Two one-on-one bouts between Puss and Death are also stand-out spectacles. Throughout, the film utilizes fun and dynamic camera angles, intentionally choppy animation and a sensibility favorably comparable to Japanese anime.

The only shortcoming of the film is that soundtrack doesn’t make much of an impression. The finale could have used a little more going on musically. Composer Heitor Pereira has put out some solid hits in the past, but nothing musically stood out as memorable besides the diegetic song sung during the opening.

All told, a sequel to 2011’s “Puss in Boots” simply didn’t have to go this hard. “The Last Wish” is a tightly paced blast with stunning action and something to say — it’s not at all the film I expected.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” will be playing this weekend at Kenai Cinema and the Orca Theater. Check showtimes and purchase tickets at catheaters.com and orcatheater.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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