Are Puss’s days of glory behind him?

Puss in Boots (right, voiced by Antonio Banderas) seeks to recover his squandered nine lives with help from Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayak, left) and Perro (Harvey Guillen).

By Richard Ades

Shrek’s favorite feline swashbuckler comes face to face with his own mortality in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.

It all starts when Puss (Antonio Banderas) realizes he’s carelessly, if heroically, used up eight of his nine lives. The Grim Reaper-like Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) then shows up and threatens to finish him off for good, forcing him to play it safe for the very first time. Abandoning his trademark cape, boots and sword, he hides out in the home of crazy cat lady Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who unwittingly steals his last bit of self-respect by dubbing him “Pickles.”

The poor feline seems destined to spend the rest of his remaining life in this miserable place, but fate intervenes when the home is invaded by Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her adopted family of bears. Puss learns they’re in search of a magical star that can grant any wish, and he immediately decides to make that his quest as well. After all, he’s desperate to find a way to get his first eight lives back so he can return to his heroic ways.

Directed by Joel Crawford from a script by Paul Fisher, Tommy Swerdlow and Tom Wheeler, the animated flick brings back Puss’s one-time girlfriend, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayak). Like other Shrek films and spinoffs, it also incorporates characters from classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes, though not always as we remember them. The chief villain, for example, is the former “Little” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who’s now grown into an oversized menace.

Accompanying Horner is Ethical Bug (Kevin McCann), an insect who bears some resemblance to Jiminy Cricket and sounds exactly (and hilariously) like the late Jimmy Stewart. Bug tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to serve as Horner’s conscience.

But the flick’s most effective lessons are imparted by its most adorable character: Perro (Harvey Guillen), a down-and-out Chihuahua whom Puss finds trying to pass himself off as just another cat in Mama Luna’s overpopulated home. Not that the humble Perro ever tries to lecture others. Instead, he teaches by example, living his life with gratitude for every pleasure and friend it sends his way.

With glorious animation and a first-rate cast voicing not only the funniest characters but the scariest ones, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish may be too intense for the youngest children. But for older kids, as well as us really old kids, it’s an amusing and warm-hearted romp with an inspirational message or two thrown in for good measure.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (rated PG) opens Dec. 21 in theaters nationwide.

Author: Richard Ades

Richard Ades was the arts editor of The Other Paper, a weekly news-and-entertainment publication, from 2008 until it was shut down on Jan. 31, 2013. He also served as TOP's theater critic throughout its 22-year existence.

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