Swashbuckling feline makes philosophical return to big screen

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An old proverb says a cat has nine lives. Unfortunately, this legendary "gift" has become a millstone around the neck of one of the world's most famous feline characters, Puss in Boots.

His latest cinematic outing, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish — the long-awaited follow-up to the 2011 Academy Award-nominated blockbuster Puss in Boots — was released across domestic theaters on Dec 23.

Three days before its theatrical release in China, the movie held a premiere at Universal Beijing Resort, with one of the highlights being a 2.7-meter-tall ice sculpture of the dashing protagonist placed outside the Universal CityWalk Cinema.

Appearing in his trademark outfit — the musketeer hat, a black cloak and high boots — the charismatic cat, with his beguiling accent courtesy of veteran Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, starts the movie with a hilarious and dazzling fight with a giant tree monster. However, the fearless hero soon finds he is facing an unprecedented peril: After his lifetime of adventure, he has only one life left!

Despite following a veterinarian's advice to bury his sword and boots to live a secure life as one of the many pets in an elderly woman's house, Puss misses the adventurous past, propelling him to embark on a quest to find the mythical Wishing Star, which he believes can restore his lost lives.

First appearing in DreamWorks Animation's 2004 Oscar-nominated Shrek 2, the milk-loving, swashbuckling feline character quickly accumulated popularity across the globe. His role increased in two further Shrek sequels as a result, winning the character a solo film, as well as appearances in multiple short DreamWorks Animation videos and a TV series.

Banderas says the voice-over job felt like visiting a dear and clever friend that he hadn't heard from for years. Noting that both he and the animated cat now have greyer whiskers, and no longer have the brashness of youth, Banderas adds that he and the character are now wiser and more introspective.

With a sizable amount of animation work, the computer-generated Puss has 1.2 million hairs. Additionally, a total of 65 different causes of death were explored to illustrate the loss of the character's eight previous lives, which appear in a flashback scene at the beginning of the movie.

Ai Shengying, the dean of animation department at the Communication University of China, says the movie has employed a creative animated technique to display some two-dimensional, nostalgic scenes in the 3D, computer-generated animated work, sort of a tribute to traditional animation.

"The tale's core is very interesting. The protagonist is not a perfect hero. Instead, he has some flaws and negative characteristics, but it makes him more relatable," says Ai.

The movie's theme to examine the meaning of life, demonstrated by the protagonist's consideration over how to spend his last life, has a specific resonance with Chinese people amid our current battle against the resurgent pandemic, he adds.

Echoing Ai's comments, Li Songwei, a psychological consultant, says the heartwarming story conveys an inspiring message, encouraging the audience to bravely face difficulties head-on and cherish life.

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