It’s been 11 years since we first met the charismatic Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). It’s been a long stretch since the first Puss in Boots movie came out in 2011, following in the footsteps of DreamWorks’ Shrek-verse – long enough for Puss to have used up eight of his legendary nine lives. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish lies on a well-walked avenue, the sidewalk worn smooth by the many pairs of feet (or paws) that have crept into the movie. But a fresh coat of perspective spills onto the silhouettes of familiar figures with every new twist the story takes.

In this film, we see a now-retired Puss, lethargic and unkempt, slowly wasting his days away in the home of a cat lady after being informed that he is down to the last of his legendary nine lives. Puss is continually challenged with how he wants to live his lives... or what even makes life worth living, if not the heroism and fame that he is used to being lauded with. He struggles to reconnect with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and is exhausted by the ceaseless affection from Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a loveable stray dog that Puss meets at the cat lady’s home.

The film is concerned with what happens after the “happily ever after” in the most classic fairy tale stories– although the elaborate footwork and arrogant quips of the main feline remain, the storyline takes on a depth unfamiliar to its previous installment. What if Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) didn’t think the Three Bears were just right for her? What if Jiminy Cricket's – or "Ethical Bug," as he's called in the movie – advice was never heeded? Jack Horner’s (John Mulaney) storyline suggests a particularly interesting idea: the static nature of fairy tale characters means they are outgrown, possibly discarded to fester over their short-lived fame. He hoards magical artifacts, corrupting their whimsical natures by using them as tools in his quest for power.

In terms of animation style, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is also markedly different from its predecessor. While the original featured the clean-cut, 3D animation style favored by animation studios like DreamWorks in the early 2010s, this sequel boasts the more organic lines popularized by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There’s a rawness to it; actions are more explosive, each twitch of the whiskers more notable in each stroke of color. In moments of frantic action, the frame rate is slowed in contrast, each move rendered in meticulous detail. It adds a gritty yet fresh twist to the viewing experience overall.

The Last Wish does more than bring back the nostalgic tones of late 2000s animation, as he’s grown up now and has more dimension. With this development, his flaws come into even sharper focus. Puss may have been a 3D-animated feline strutting around arrogantly in polished boots and a feathered hat in the first movie, but in this one, the audience can’t help but marvel at his moving character arc. Questions of identity, ambition and true desire plague all of the characters in this movie, but it is especially stunning to see the arrogant hero from the first movie become humbled and then rejuvenated with a quieter confidence, equipped with the knowledge of his true wish. Additionally, the careful depiction of Puss’ panic attacks directs the audience’s attention to how damaged a character Puss really is; struggling with identity and desperate to retain his past glory, he is no longer the reckless hero we were introduced to over a decade ago. Instead, he trembles at the character Death’s (Wagner Moura) looming shadow and is still blindly searching for a way out of his inevitable predicament.

In one striking scene, Puss stands in a cavern filled with the spirits of his past lives, mirrored images of the self he used to be looking down on their last life, now diminished and scared of the future. A moment of reflection ensues, in which he remarks, “You guys are jerks, which makes this very conflicting for me!” The depth of his character development is considerable– instead of idolizing his past lives, Puss has come to realize that their lifestyle is not what he truly wants for his last life.

The ambitious characterization in this film extends not to just Puss, but also other characters like Goldilocks, Jack Horner, and even the Wolf, who bring such different parts of the human condition to life. The characterization of Death as the Wolf was genuinely one of the most terrifying animated characters I’ve ever seen, the effect only enhanced by the tell-tale whistling that accompanies his looming figure. Death is merciful. Death is in pursuit, his dual sickles flashing in the dark. But at the end of the day, for Puss in Boots, the legend lives on.

Thumbnail image by DreamWorks Animation