Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) in "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish."
CNN  — 

Coming 11 years after his first movie and 18 after his introduction in the “Shrek” franchise, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” brings a playful quality to the animated feline as well as a deeper message. When it comes to long-delayed sequels it’s wise to be careful what you wish for, but overall the film manages to nimbly land on its feet.

Granted, one can argue whether there was a need for another movie (probably not), but tasked with doing so, it’s at least energetic and mildly fun. Once again drawing heavily from storybook lore, the premise involves the fearless hero (again voiced by Antonio Banderas) having exhausted eight of his nine lives (“I am not really a math guy,” he says when apprised of the situation), which might suggest dialing it back on the dangerous swashbuckling.

Undaunted, Puss confronts a scary wolf (“Narcos’” Wagner Moura) who sends him into retreat, putting him on a quest to locate the Wishing Star, whose power will grant him the ability to reclaim his lost lives and, theoretically, his bravado and mojo.

In between, Puss gets a taste of what it’s like to be a rescue cat, complete with the indignities of communal feeding and litter boxes. For cat fanciers, these scenes will carry an extra comedic punch, even if they drag on a bit too long before getting around to the larger plot.

Along the way, Puss reunites with his love interest Kittie Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), with whom, as it turns out, things ended badly; and picks up a nameless dog they call Perrito (Harvey Guillén of “What We Do in the Shadows”) who thinks everything is just swell, no matter how dire circumstances might appear.

Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), Perrito (Harvey Guillén) and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) in "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish."

Aside from keeping the wolf at bay, Puss faces some serious competition for the Star, including Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), whose relationship with the three bears took another unexpected turn in this telling; and Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who has outgrown his “good boy” days and become ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants.

Directed by Joel Crawford with co-director Januel Mercado (who worked together on “The Croods: A New Age”) from a screenplay by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow, “The Last Wish” perhaps inevitably feels a little too chaotic in places, what with all the interested parties plucked from fairy tales participating in the hunt, each with their own motives. Yet there’s a sweetness to its underlying point about making the most of the life (or lives) you have, even without the cat-like cushion when it comes to cheating death.

Animation, of course, allows the key characters to pick up right where they left off, although the long lag time between movies feels like a tacit admission that Puss in Boots was always better suited to the role of comedic co-star and might be a trifle thin when thrust into the central spotlight.

Still, if watching Puss in Boots again as he pursue more lives isn’t quite a ticket to happily ever after, all told it’s not a bad way for a family to kill roughly 100 minutes.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” premieres December 21 in US theaters. It’s rated PG.