A cat always lands on its feet, so it’s only appropriate that “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” does so as well. The film is vibrant, lively and much better than it has any right to be, perhaps the best entry in the “Shrek” universe so far.

Drifting away from Shrek’s “this ain’t your Grandma’s fairy tale” too-cool-for-school attitude, “The Last Wish” has a strong emotional core and an honest desire to engage with the heart of its audience.

Vibrant animation and swashbuckling script

Eleven years after the original “Puss in Boots” movie, the swashbuckling feline, indelibly voiced by Antonio Banderas, is down to the last of his nine lives.

Following a run-in with the Big Bad Wolf, the physical manifestation of death, Puss, terrified, goes into hiding. Learning of a fantastical lost wishing star, Puss hopes that it will restore his previous lives. He sets out to find the star with the help of Perritto (Harvery Guillén), a sweet, though somewhat annoying, therapy dog, and former flame Kitty Southpaws (Salma Hayek), while being pursed by the Goldi and the Three Bears crime family (Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone and Samson Kayo) and the megalomaniacal “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney).

The video game-style plotting is rather complicated for a kid’s movie, with a lot of characters and changing motivations to keep track of, but it’s helped along by a clean and efficient script.

A strong selling point for “The Last Wish” is the spectacular animation. Influenced by “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” and Japanese anime, it is both painterly and kinetic. Even with the slickness of computer generated images, there’s a rough texture to “The Last Wish,” from the cobblestone paths that the characters trod down to the cat fur.

‘The Last Wish’ trusts in the intelligence of children

“The Last Wish” manages to straddle the line between appealing to adults and children without feeling condescending to either groups. A great number of the jokes land, with the notable exception of Goldi and the Three Bears’ frequent descriptor of things as “just right.” That one gets old rather fast.

Life lessons are distributed to Puss without feeling obnoxiously like the meme of, “Going to get a good grade in therapy.” The lack of condescension is more than welcome in children’s animation. Think about how many times the Academy Award for best animated feature is introduced with a snarky, “These movies prove that animation is not just for kids.”

“The Last Wish” trusts the intelligence of the children in the audience, both mental and emotional, and understands their love of adventure and scares.

Representation of a panic attack

At one point toward the middle of “The Last Wish,” after a confrontation with the Big Bad Wolf, Puss suffers a panic attack. Drawn from storyboard artist Taylor Meacham’s own experiences with anxiety, per CNN, the feline can’t catch his breath as he shakes and his eyes unfocus.

While panic attacks have been depicted in media before — including in “The Sopranos,” “The Fosters,” “Captain Phillips,” “Iron Man” and “Ted Lasso” — it is rare in children’s media. Lynn Bufka, associate chief of practice transformation at the American Psychological Association and a clinician, told CNN that young children seeing a character that they identify with feel fear and accept comfort from a loved one can help, even if the child doesn’t know the term “panic attack.”

“People don’t always have the language for their emotions,” Bufka said. “But it’s important to have it onscreen, because it helps people feel seen, recognized and not alone.”

How is ‘The Last Wish’ performing at the box office?

Released on Dec. 21, after a month in theaters, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has grossed nearly $300 million worldwide. It has been well-reviewed and is performing well, continuing to grow with a 19% increase in box office over the week of Jan. 13. In 2022, Dreamworks releases outgrossed both Disney animation and Pixar for the first time since 2008, per Deadline.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is rated PG for rude humor, language, action, violence and some scary moments.