“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”
Rated PG. At the AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters.
No exactly brilliant, Dreamworks/Universal’s computer-animated action film “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” from directors Joel Crawford (“The Croods: A New Age”) and Januel Mercado and writers Tommy Swerdlow (“The Grinch”), Tom Wheeler (“Dora and the Lost City of Gold”) and Paul Fisher (“The Croods: A New Age”) is more of the same “Shrek” spin-off character.
That means Puss in Boots (voice of Antonio Banderas) and Kitty Softpaws (Slama Hayek ), whom he supposedly left at the altar, will team up once again, this time in search of the “last wish,” a gift from the stars hidden somewhere within the “dark forest,” using a magical map that resembles a roll-up iPad.
Co-opting the nursery rhyme “Star Light, Star Bright,” which most of us associate with “Pinocchio,” seems a but rude, even if Pinocchio has a cameo. But these are rude times. Opening scenes offer a song-and-dance routine. We are reminded that Puss in Boots has “never been touched by a blade” and that he is a “fearless hero.” In the course of events, most of which are fun, Puss will battle a formerly sleeping giant and lose another of his nine lives. But even with only one life left, Puss decides to seek “the last wish,” accompanied by his new friend Perrito (Harvey Guillen), a wacky chihuahua that has been passing as a cat in the cat reserve run by Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). At the cat hostelry, Puss has been renamed “Pickles” and has grown an “old cat” beard.
Once again, Puss in Boots lives in the world of fairy tales. Among his adversaries this time are Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who is armed with magical weapons, such as a crossbow that fires unicorn horns, Goldilocks (Florence Pugh, who steals scenes with her voice alone) and her “crime” family Mama Bear (Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman), Papa Bear (the great Ray Winstone) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo, TV’s “Truth Seekers”). The bears track Puss using Baby Bear’s super sense of smell. By far, Puss’s most fearsome enemy is the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura), who is nothing less than Death itself. The Big Bad Wolf dresses like the Grim Reaper of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and wields sickle-shaped blades.
Executive produced by Chris Meledandri of the “Despicable Me” franchise, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is never less than capable and often funny. Like “Shrek” (Puss first appeared in Shrek 2),”Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is full of pop culture references. We get a “Wizard of Oz” shout-out and, believe it or not, with its “Mountains of Misery” and similarly-named map sites, a tie to John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Check out the grasshopper with the voice of James Stewart, who claims to be everyone’s “conscience” (He’s Jiminy Stewart).The kiddies and their parents will miss the Stewart connection. But their grandparents won’t. Often, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” recalls an animated version of an old Bob Hope movie with Puss as a Latino swashbuckling “Ol’ Ski Nose.” Early in the action, Puss loses his trademark mini-sword, and Perrito gives Puss a stick as a less-than-worthy replacement. Puss, Kitty and Perrito practice the mystifying “big eyes” trick. Although born in Oxford, England, Pugh gives Goldilocks a working-class Cockney accent. We get a stand-off right out of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and an ending out of “The Lord of the Rings.” Sail away, Puss.
(“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” contains violent action, rude humor and scary moments)