When Shrek won the Oscar for the newly-minted Best Animated Feature category in 2002, it paved the way for a new era of animation. Now, as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish swashbuckles its way into cinemas (and the Academy Awards), it seems only fitting that the franchise which heralded the hibernation of painterly style studio-fare is taking part in its revival. But the film’s gorgeous style is only a small part of the feline fighter’s charm: The Last Wish is a funny, moving character study that just happens to be centred on a bipedal ginger cat.

Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

If you or your kids missed out on the previous instalment in Puss’ journey – and most of its target audience won’t have been born when it was last in cinemas – it’s helpful to know that The Last Wish is near-enough a stand-alone adventure. Reaching the end of his nine lives, our titular boot-bearer (voiced by Antonio Banderas) is living out his days in a suffocating cat sanctuary, having hung up his cape and sword for good. But, when Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her ursine entourage (among them Olivia Colman and Ray Winstone) come looking for a star which will grant the holder a single wish, Puss must team up with friends old and new for one last ride into the sunset.

The animation is certainly spectacular. While the franchise’s earlier forays perhaps haven’t aged visually quite as well as many of the 2D classics of the 20th century, The Last Wish sees a real attempt to update the Shrek universe’s distinct visual style for modern audiences. The influence of Into the Spider-verse is obvious from the off: the comic-book style expression lines and caffeinated camera movements could have been lifted straight from the Lord and Miller playbook. The action sequences – and there are surprisingly many – are frankly astounding, making full use of adjusted frame-rate to add a real kinetic feel to the swipe of every paw.

Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

But all that technical wizardry would go nowhere without strong art design, and it’s here that The Last Wish really shines. It’s a far more colourful film that any of its predecessors, its fairy-tale exploration of mystical landscapes really pushing the limits of the team’s visual imagination. For that reason alone it’s certainly a film worth checking out on the big screen, where the enhanced colour contrast pops far more than on a sun-soaked box in the corner of a room.

In fact, the tangible pride felt in every frame is one that seeps into the script, which makes better use of the franchise’s tongue-in-cheek fairy-tale setting than almost any instalment since the original Shrek. The jokes come thick and fast, and John Mulaney’s Jack Horner-inspired villain provides ample opportunity to cram as many nursery-rhyme references into the screen time as possible. That the film manages this while finding the time for mature, emotional beats throughout is perhaps its greatest triumph.

Logan by way of Into The Spider-verse, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is one of those films that feels far more organic, more cared-for and better-crafted than it perhaps had any reason to be. As a new evolution in the chain of children’s animation, it’s a triumph. As a film in its own right, you’ll be weeping all the way to the credits.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish releases in cinemas from February 3rd.