‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ is one of the best animations in recent memory

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” was released to theaters December 2022, over 11 years after its predecessor. Despite initial box office disappointment, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has seen a resurgence in popularity during recent weeks due in part to internet buzz and its nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards.

Set years after the events of the “Shrek” films, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” follows the feline Puss on an adventure to find the mystical Wishing Star. Having lost his eighth life, Puss hopes to use the Star to restore all nine of his lives before death catches up with him. Teaming up with Kitty Softpaws, a past partner-in-crime, and Perrito, a mangy chihuahua looking to make friends, Puss endeavors to find the map which will lead him to the Wishing Star. “Big” Jack Horner, a greedy businessman from an English nursery rhyme, is hot on the trio’s trail, along with Goldilocks and her crime family of three bears and a mysterious hooded wolf wielding twin sickles, who seems to haunt Puss’s every step.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is an excellent film and certainly one of the greatest Western animated films in recent memory. Its central message of pride begetting downfall, while no stranger to the genre, is readily accessible to the film’s target audience and a fitting vehicle for Puss’s character arc, a character who has remained relatively one-note since his introduction in 2004’s “Shrek 2.”

The animation style is a welcome change to the use of computer graphics typical of modern animated films. Characters and environments appear almost painted, suggestive of storybook illustrations — a fitting motif given the franchise’s inspiration. Facial expressions are noteworthy, especially Jack Horner’s, a particularly emotive character. Overall, the art direction is commendable.

A character that pushes “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” beyond the standard fare and allows the filmmakers to harness maturity amid the silliness is the Wolf. Though appearing sparsely throughout the film, the Wolf’s presence is always felt through the terror of the characters on screen — especially Puss — and the tension established by the direction and cinematography. The film has a real grasp on effectively utilizing framing, especially when the Wolf shares a scene with the protagonists. His shadow slowly grows through the crack of a door or his eyes glow gray in the dark when they lock with Puss’s — moments like these create a tangible tension unexpected in such a film.

Lending to the Wolf’s menace is, of course, his voice. Wagner Moura brings this menace with his plain delivery and forceful cadence. The film’s other impressive performers include John Mulaney as Jack Horner, who feels perfect for the inherent ridiculousness of that character. Antonio Banderas brings his all once again with the swashbuckling Puss, as does Salma Hayek in her second outing as Kitty Softpaws.

In all, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a film that does so little wrong, it is hard to fault it at all. Here is an animation engaging for children and adult viewers alike, one that certainly takes itself seriously, never at the cost of wit, comedy or emotion. 9/9 lives