“The Last Wish” expands the roster of ridiculously talented supporting players from the Oscar-nominated 2011 original “Puss in Boots.” Joining Banderas and his longtime friend and co-star Salma Hayek Pinault are Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and John Mulaney, among many others. They bring a surprising amount of substance to what might have been a purely playful endeavor.
But of course, the fast-paced humor and elaborate visuals are the main draws of director Joel Crawford and co-director Januel Mercado’s film. The film’s aesthetics may rely too heavily on anime influences, especially during the action sequences, but the vibrant colors and rich textures are a delight. From the moss growing on a fearsome forest giant to the shiny silkiness of Puss’ whiskers blowing in the wind, “The Last Wish” offers a variety of eye-popping details. And it frequently features dramatic shadows and subtle dissolves to transition from past to present or one scene to the next.
The story begins with a debauched bacchanal (featuring kegs filled with leche) that’s more convincing than the opening orgy in “Babylon.” Puss in Boots is naturally front and center, singing his heart out, partying it up – but eventually, he must go on the run when he realizes that bounty hunter The Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) is after him, and he’s down to the last of his nine lives. (The zippy montage revealing the many ways he’s died is packed with witty, little asides.) FYI for parents and caretakers of little kids: The Big Bad Wolf is essentially The Grim Reaper. He’s relentless, and he’s terrifying.
Faking his death, Puss seeks shelter at a cramped cat refuge run by Randolph’s sweetly doting Mama Luna. Watching the arrogant, preening feline struggle to assimilate into a mundane world of dry food and shared litter boxes is hilarious, and the angles through which we experience his reluctant transformation put us inside his head. But it’s here that Puss meets an unlikely ally: a scruffy, crazy-eyed Chihuahua pretending to be a cat because he has nowhere else to go. We come to know him as Perrito, and he’s played with scene-stealing sweetness by Harvey Guillen (“What We Do in the Shadows”). In a stacked voice cast, Guillen’s performance emerges as the unexpected highlight. Perrito’s unflappable innocence and enthusiasm in the face of danger are infectious, but he also provides the film with some of its most deeply emotional moments. Again, the darker parts of “The Last Wish” may disturb young viewers.