19 years since first being introduced and 12 since the first spin off of the Shrek franchise, the allure to revisit the swashbuckling, leche drinking, totally humble yet fierce heroic warrior is stronger than ever. Its one thing that marks the staying power of a franchise – its characters, whether main or supporting keep getting reinvented to appeal to the next generation while reminding those who first grew up with the franchise what they love about it in the first place. Arriving during a time where the animation medium itself has undergone a reinvention of itself, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish proves that there are plenty of adventures to be had in this expanding fairy tale inspired franchise.
Directed by Joel Crawford off a story by Tom Wheeler and Tommy Swerdlow, the latter who wrote the screenplay along with Paul Fisher, The Last Wish starts strong and continues to outdo itself throughout the modestly typical runtime. Taking inspiration from the fairytale of the same name, the character of Puss (Antonio Banderas) remains one of the marquee characters that was first introduced in the Shrek franchise. With Banderes returning to this coveted role, the slick talking, charismatic, absurdly adorable ginger cat takes centerstage once more among an ensemble cast of characters that gives Puss and his famed boots a run for his money.
A fiesta opens The Last Wish where Puss is being so humbly honored by admiring fans. The milk is on ice and the band plays a tune that would cause anyone to get up, dance and sing along to Puss’s high praises. The climax of this breathtaking opening sequence comes when Puss defeats a giant bedrock kaiju in which a bell puts Puss in the hospital. Upon waking, Puss realizes 8 off 9 lives have been used up in a montage of overly confident and arrogant behavior and he has 1 life left. The doctor, barber, dentist (Anthony Mendez) of the small town suggests Puss hang up his boots and retire from his heroic albeit criminal lifestyle.
Appealing to a younger audience The Last Wish is full of humor around every corner however what will grab hold of an older viewer is the mature themes that are abundant throughout the narrative. After the conclusion of the opening sequence, Puss encounters a black hooded wolf (Wagner Moura) stalking his prey, looming over the films narrative with a simple yet effective whistle. Whenever the whistle starts, instant goosebumps occur from the viewer and Puss from the creeping danger that inches closer and closer. To avoid spoilers, the Wolf’s true purpose becomes a fascinating subversion to what the Wolf was originally introduced as when meeting Puss for the first time.
Nearly all of The Last Wish is written to subvert the expectations of its core familial fairytale characters. Along the way we meet Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the 3 bears – Mama Bear (Olivia Colman), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo) all of whom are a crime family in search of the ‘last wish’. As supporting secondary characters, the quartet could have easily been one dimensional villains that just get in the way causing a brief distraction for Puss but Fisher and Swerdlow give this unconventional family a purpose.
Joining Puss on the quest for the legendary ‘Last Wish’ but for their own motivations is a therapy dog named Perrito (Harvey Guillèn) disguising himself as a cat in Mama Luna’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) retirement home and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), rounding out the remainder of the talented ensemble cast.
Full of silly, smart and witty dialogue, it’s the relatable humor that sticks the landing 10 times out of 10. While in the retirement home, Puss grows a beard mirroring his acceptance of old age and being so close to the end. Puss’s reluctance to hold onto his youth breaks down overtime – immediately after arriving Puss’s habits of using a toilet to go to the bathroom and cooking over a stove break down over time, eventually he lets the inevitable happen, letting fate take over but never losing his youthful spirit. Getting back to the beard, anyone with a beard will instantly relate to the care that goes into a beard. They’re itchy, annoying and uncomfortable and growing it will give the urge to shave it all off.
Personally, bearded Puss in Boots looks way cooler than clean shaven but, what do I know?
Paired nicely with a strong screenplay and exceptional camera placement is a variety of animation style’s that stand out individually but when blended together is full of life, realistic texture and splashes of color. The inspiration that broke new ground with Into-the Spiderverse gives the Shrek universe more depth to it. Influences of anime, realism and traditional CGI to name a few make more of an impact as one – fur looks soft and fluffy while the exotic fairy tale inspired locales are full of details down to the smallest eye-popping additions.
With all the visually pleasing animation taking up each frame full of crisp details, what made Puss in Boots a household name back in 2004 beyond being the action hero who saves the day are the looks of pure love that a cat lover knows so well. Whats known online as cute aggression takes over whenever Puss makes his eyes big shiny and is given additional cuteness overload with Softpaws one upping Puss and Perrito trying to copy his feline best friends. All that was missing was biscuit making but Softpaws more than made up for it with her paw extensions.
Someone at DreamWorks is a cat person and it shows.
Overall, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is further proof that telling a story with familiar fairy tale characters doesn’t have to be the same predictable story that has been told at nauseam. There are plenty of routes to take that can subvert expectations to make the characters full of dimension that hasn’t been explored before. If it wasn’t for Puss in Boots being the main attraction, Goldilocks and the 3 Bears come out of nowhere to steal the spotlight whenever they cross paths with our heroes.
Screenplay By: Paul Fisher & Tommy Swerdlow
Story By: Tom Wheeler & Tommy Swerdlow
Directed By: Joel Crawford
Music By: Heitor Pereira
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura
Where to Watch: Peacock
Edited By: James Ryan
Release Date: December 21, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Based On: Puss in Boots by Giovanni Francesco Straparola