“He has been a character that has connected with the audience from very early on,” Antonio Banderas tells us when we ask why we’re still all so obsessed with Puss In Boots, since we first saw him back in 2004 in Shrek 2.
“But he has a duality,” Banderas continues. “In one hand, you have a character that is arrogant, cocky, a little bit full of himself. Then on the other hand, you get a very loyal friend, a friendly character.”
We’re speaking to Banderas because our obsession with Puss is soon to live on with the release of Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, the latest adventure for our favourite feeline with a penchant for sturdy footwear.
The movie is set after Shrek Ever After (which is the last time we see Puss if we’re taking the Puss In Boots and Shrek films in chronological order) and Puss is up to his old ways – charmingly swindling those around him and generally being loved by everyone. However, this time his arrogance goes too far and while revelling in his victory over a giant, gets crushed by a huge bell.
But he’ll be fine! He has nine lives, right? As Puss wakes up in a hospital after being told he’s died, the realisation soon dawns on him that, no, he doesn’t have nine lives. In fact, bell-gate was his eighth death and now he only has one life left!
Soon, his misadventures don’t seem quite so appealing anymore. However, for Banderas, the end of Puss’ nine lives doesn’t mean the end of his adventures, but more of a change in them.
“Why does [Puss] behave that way? Why has he got all this flare?” Banderas ponders. “Because he has nine lives. What would happen if you take those nine lives and leave just one? He becomes human.
“If I had nine lives, I will be a hero. Of course. If I lose one of my lives, one of my hero-icities, I’ve still got eight more. But now he becomes human and then he gets into this panic momentum, almost existential in which he is vulnerable. Death is around. [But] we don’t abandon the adventure. Now the purpose of the adventure is completely different.”
Deciding he needs to keep himself safe, Puss ditches his iconic boots, hat and sword and heads to live with cat lady Mama Luna, to lead the life of an ordinary house cat.
While he’s there, he meets Perrito, who’s far from an ordinary house cat. In fact, he’s not a cat at all, he’s a dog dressed up like one!
“He introduces himself as a cat first of all, pretending to be something else, because he really wants to be a therapy dog [but] he’s just there for the grub and friends,” explains What We Do In The Shadows’ Harvey Guillen, who plays Perrito. ”He doesn’t have that many friends to begin with [but] he somehow finds his way into Puss’ heart, and Puss learns a lesson from his little dog friend that he might have overlooked the whole time. I think that’s really sweet and endearing. I really like the contribution that Perrito gives to the movie.”
Speaking of contributions, this is Guillen’s first outing in the Shrek universe, though that doesn’t mean it’s his first time watching any of the movies and he’s pretty stoked to be joining the family. “I’ve always been a fan,” he nods. “I mean, I still quote it. It was something that was on loop in our household.
“Just to be part of it is mind-blowing. This is crazy. But it feels like Perrito has always been a part of it. I guess in a way he was always there. He just was in a different world that you hadn’t visit yet.”
Perrito isn’t the only newcomer. Puss In Boots: The Last Wish also introduces us to Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears, Mama Bear (Olivia Coleman), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo). The four are a family of criminals and they’ve found out that a map has been discovered to find the coveted Wishing Star, which grants its finder one wish.
When Puss finds out about the map and the Wishing Star, he realises this might be his one chance to get his nine lives back. In doing so, he and Perrito team up with old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and along the way, the trio soon realise that perhaps it wasn’t the Wishing Star they were looking for all along.
“Good things can happen, but at the end, the purpose of what [Puss] was looking for (I want my nine lives back), doesn’t make sense anymore,” Banderas explains. “So the message is very simple. It’s just life itself. The appreciation of what we have. Life. And even the need that we have for others. This character Perrito that is bothering him (because he’s pathologically optimistic), suddenly he starts realising why he needs him, why we need each other…”
When speaking to Banderas, it’s clear the passion he has for the character he’s now played, as he tells us, for two whole decades! “I’ve been doing the character 20 years,” he nods.”The first session that I did with him was at the end of January 2003. [He’s] almost like a friend. It’s almost like a guy who has been with me through all of this.
“I remember seeing Shrek in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in the middle of all the intellectuality of Europe. I thought ‘oh my god, what is that?’ This is completely different to anything that I’ve seen before in the animation world. Wow. So when they called me I was like, ‘yes!’. It was a great, beautiful surprise at the time. I had a lot of fun with this character. I have been very happy with him and performing him, having ideas, having opinions, creating different stories and then just performing has been great. I don’t know if he’s gonna have a continuation or not…”
With four Shrek movies and now two Puss movies, a continuation in the franchise is never out of the question. Indeed, though Puss In Boots: The Last Wish marks 12 years since Dreamworks last made a film in the Shrek universe (with Puss In Boots in 2011), it’s clear audiences and the industry alike are still keen (The Last Wish has been nominated for a plethora of awards in 2023, including an Oscar nomination for Best Animation).
For Guillen, that continued love of the universe stems from the heart. “I think at the end of the day, the Shrek franchise and Puss in Boots… it has heart,” he enthuses. “It’s a comedy, but all of these movies have heart and it’s good. It feels good to laugh and laugh at life situations in a fairy tale setting because we all grew up watching these.”
You can trust us when we say your heart will find space for Perrito alongside all the Shrek characters you love. So when we ask Guillen what he thinks Perrito’s story would be if he had his own movie, we’re not surprised to hear that it will come from a place lodged firmly on the left side of your chest.
“I think maybe flashbacks of his origin,” he describes. “It would be nice to see an adventure with him. What does that entail? Opening up his own therapy school for dogs? Or being a therapy dog and almost like a social worker who gets assigned different cases of people who need dogs?!
“We don’t deserve dogs, we really don’t. They just give you love and affection and that’s all they want to give. So it would be nice to see some kind of adventure with that.”
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is in cinemas on 3 February.