The Media Man Reviews: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
DreamWorks seems to have really made a big comeback lately. 2022 in particular was a big renaissance for the company with The Bad Guys (which I've reviewed) generating much positive reception from critics and audiences and as of now, they're riding high on the critical and financial success of their latest movie. It's been out for months and people are STILL gushing like mad over how good it is! That movie of course is Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
Released last year, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a sequel to the 2011 Puss in Boots movie, itself a spin-off from the Shrek franchise starring arguably the most popular character in the franchise, Puss in Boots. This sequel as a LONG time coming, especially when you consider the 11 year gap between this movie and the previous instalment. Why it took so long, I don't know. All I know is it finally came out and people have just been going crazy about it. I myself was initially uninterested due to the movie not looking so great from the trailers and the Into the Spider-Verse style animation didn't grab me. But then the reviews came in and I thought "Well now I've GOT to see this and see what all the fuss is about!"
And before you ask, the reason I'm so late to the party is because, no joke, the movie didn't come until THIS MONTH here in the UK. So yeah, the UK is only NOW getting the chance to see it! Well, better late than never as they say. Oh and if you're curious, I did see the first movie as well. It was...alright I guess? For a movie starring Puss in Boots, it's surprisingly forgettable though. Then again, I haven't seen it since the first time I watched it back in 2011 so my memory might be a little hazy. Still, you'd think a movie starring Puss in Boots would have more of an impact on me, especially as he's my absolute favourite character in the whole Shrek franchise.
So is Puss in Boots: The Last Wish a wish come true? Or should we be careful what we wish for in this case? Let's dive in...
Section 1: The Story
The movie sees everyone's favourite Zorro-in-a-cat's-body hero, Puss in Boots, continuing to do what he does best and being a total badass about it. However, he gets crushed to death by a bell and is given a horrific realization from the doctors that he has died eight times already, putting him on the last of his nine lives. But there is a way to restore those nine lives. With his old flame, Kitty Softpaws, aiding him on his quest, Puss will have to avoid death as several bounty hunters come after him and Death itself is literally stalking him on his way to make his last wish...
The first film was a heist movie in where our heroes have to get the golden eggs from the goose that lays them. This film is also a heist movie in where our heroes have to find a wishing star that lays in the Dark Forest with several parties all fighting over the star to make a wish of their own come true. Unlike the first movie where it was pretty formulaic and forgettable in that department, this movie has a lot more going for it. For starters, this film is CONSIDERABLY darker than what you might expect from a DreamWorks movie, particularly a movie in the Shrek franchise. No joke, this movie may surprise you with how it doesn't hold back even for a family film with the theme of death approaching, a lot of dark humour, some mild swearing here and there, some truly despicable villains, an actual onscreen body count and most important of all, PUSS IN BOOTS LITERALLY TUSSLING WITH DEATH ITSELF!!! It's easy to forget that this is a sequel to Puss in Boots because it sure as hell feels like they escalated everything from the first movie to the point they don't even feel like they're in the same franchise! But I don't use this as a criticism. On the contrary, it actually made this movie way more intriguing to watch as a result. With the raised stakes of Puss being on his last life with Death stalking him around every corner, it makes for a nail-biting watch and your attention will be firmly held throughout the movie, let me tell you.
But thankfully, the movie doesn't become too dark to the point it feels depressing or uncomfortable to watch. Again, a lot of the dark tone is played for laughs with a lot of black comedy here and there and there is also a lot of humour that we come to expect from the Shrek franchise with your typical fairy tale jokes at the expense of the characters and setting we have. Not every joke lands, but most of them do and we do get some proper laugh-out-loud moments throughout the movie. Some are even hilarious for how far they push the film's PG-rating with moments of Perrito actually swearing (albeit censored of course) as if this is an episode of The Simpsons or Family Guy. I know they censored it but still, that kind of humour is NOT what you'd expect from a movie like this, even one by DreamWorks! XD
But back to the story itself. One thing I love about the story is that it takes the time to delve into the parties fighting over the wishing star and what motivates them to claim that wish for themselves. I'll go more into this for the characters section but for now, I'll say it adds a lot of layers to the movie by showing these aren't just people who want the star just because. Some have more sympathetic reasons than others of course but the fact they bothered to make sure everyone had a defined motive behind claiming that wish shows how much care was put into the script and characterizations here. They even manage to subvert expectations with some of them be it the Wolf's true identity or Goldilocks being more complex than just straight up evil and such.
And of course, the film has a strong emotional core to it due to the themes it has to offer, namely the sad truth of life that death is always waiting and it can't be avoided so instead of wasting your life, make the most of it before that time comes. That's always a weighty subject for any movie to tackle no matter the age-group but I feel the film handled it well. It did it in a way kids can understand with what with death being depicted as this big scary wolf and how they use the old "cats have nine lives" joke as a set-up for the movie's plot while also playing it completely straight with no humour or funny business whenever the wolf's on screen. All this makes the film infectiously gripping to watch and is even surprising for you wouldn't think a PUSS IN BOOTS sequel would go in that kind of direction, yet it does! This theme of living your life to the fullest gives Puss a strong character arc that I'm sure many of us can relate to as we too start fearing our own mortality and strive to make the most of our lives while we can.
Also, this is a Puss in Boots movie so naturally, there's some action scenes in them. And they're the highlights of the movie, no surprise there. The action scenes truly are awesome to watch (even though I wish they didn't lower the framerate whenever they happened) with a lot of chases and sword-swinging action. The best scenes of course are when Puss and Death face each other with some truly spectacular choreography and an intense feel to the fights. I mean Death LITERALLY draws blood on Puss during the first fight! No, I'm serious! HE DRAWS. ACTUAL. BLOOD. WHEN FIGHTING PUSS! That should tell you how much they were making the action scenes cool yet intense to watch! There are some action scenes that go for more fun than intensity of course like the battle with the giant and again, some dark humour to make the fights both brutal and funny at the same time but they're all cool to watch in many ways and really gives us what we expect from a Puss in Boots movie.
Naturally, it's not perfect as no movie can be perfect and thankfully, this movie does have very few complaints I have to make. But there are some problems I have. First of all, this barely feels like a sequel to the first movie. With only Puss and Kitty Softpaws coming back, it's easy to forget there's even a first movie at all with barely any references or call-backs to before. I mean Humpty-Dumpty doesn't even get mentioned despite what a big part he played in that film and Puss's backstory! I know the first film's not the most memorable DreamWorks movie ever but I didn't think it'd be to the point even DreamWorks themselves forgot about it! Why even make this a sequel at all when it has so little to do with the first movie? We may as well say "there is no first movie, there is only THIS one".
Second, why was that dumb subplot with Puss and Kitty being on bad terms necessary to include? It wasn't, plain and simple. It feels like it only exists as a limp-wristed attempt to explain what happened between them after the first movie and just to make them argue...just because. It didn't work for Disney's Strange World and it certainly doesn't work here. Hell, it's resolved so pathetically easily (as in Kitty overhears Puss opening up to Perrito and she doesn't hate him anymore) that I'm still baffled why it's even here at all. You could've had the two together without them being estranged exes and this movie would literally be the same. Nothing changes if you drop this subplot completely and just have Kitty as an accomplice to Puss. Granted, it wouldn't feel as strong if Kitty didn't have a motive behind wanting the wish too but you could've done that without putting the two on bad terms for the sake of drama that doesn't even work to begin with. If I wrote this movie, I would make it so Kitty joins Puss in the hopes of sharing the wish and make it a twist that she's ALSO on her last life and Death is stalking her too. That I feel would've given this subplot more weight and given Kitty a stronger reason to go for the star as well.
Also, you may not agree with me, but I feel the climax should've ended with Puss vs. Death instead of dragging it out a bit longer with the final tussle with Big Jack Horner. It just feels like it was meant to finish with Puss vs. Death but then the writers realized "Hang on, Jack still has the size-changing snacks!" and thus hastily added an extra battle just so they could wrap up his plot too.
And finally, as mentioned before, not every joke in this movie is solid. Perrito can get grating at times with him being SpongeBob levels of naïve and blind to reality and Jack Horner's shtick about "ha, ha, look how evil he is!" very quickly wears out its welcome. Like guys, we get it. He's an evil jackass. It's not funny when you keep pointing out or emphasizing that fact. And even the puns with Goldilocks's "Just right" catchphrase get old real quick too. Yes we get it DreamWorks, we all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears at this point!
As is, the film has very few problems and they don't break the movie for me. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish stands tall above most of DreamWorks's other works with a truly strong story that went a lot harder than it needed to in order to make for one awesome watch...
Section 2: The Characters
Despite being a sequel to Puss in Boots, only Puss and Kitty make a comeback here with the rest being new characters.
We have our main sword-swinging feline himself, Puss in Boots (voiced once more by Antonio Banderas). Puss is presented as the fearless, suave, charismatic hero of the people who is so badass that he laughs in the face of danger, yet when he's brought down to his last life and has a close call with Death, he truly begins to fear for his life and comes to wrestle with his own mortality for he now no longer has any lives left after this one. He desires to regain his nine lives but over the course of his journey, he comes to see that maybe one life with something he truly cares about might be more valuable than nine lives with nothing of any real value to him. Puss is a great protagonist here and his character arc is easily the glue that holds this story together. I must also address the fact that Antonio Banderas not only nails it as the feline sword master that he's become famous for, but he too had his own near-death experience that makes this movie feel almost like it was made for him in that sense. I mean that scene of Puss's panic attack hits even harder knowing that Antonio was likely in that same situation too...
Accompanying him is his old flame from the first film, Kitty Softpaws (voiced again by Salma Hayek). As mentioned before, her subplot is the weakest part of the movie for how pointless and unnecessary it was. While she is sympathetic due to her desire to have someone she can truly trust for once after a lifetime of abandonment and betrayal, I don't like how she and Puss are estranged lovers who bicker a lot until Puss opens up to Perrito and Kitty overhears this...to which she doesn't hate him anymore and the subplot is dropped. It also turns out she (supposedly) wasn't at the altar like Puss wasn't so her beef with him makes even less sense and only makes her look like a giant hypocrite. Again, her presence would've been stronger and more welcome if it turned out she too is on her last life and is after the wishing star for the same reason as Puss. That I feel would give them more of a reason to be at odds with each other as they fight over getting the nine lives back but come to agree they should share the wish in the end. It's a pity Kitty was so badly handled here as she was one of the best parts of the first film and her return ends up feeling so flat compared to Puss.
They also gain a companion in the form of a scruffy dog they name Perrito (voiced by Harvey Guillén) He is a little irritating at first because of how he can't get the hint that Puss isn't interested in him and he seems blind to reality to the point he tells his backstory as if it's somehow funny. But he does grow on you over time and proves not to be entirely useless while also managing to be funnier than one might expect. His highlight for me was when he helped Puss calm down after his panic attack and even coaxes him into opening up. That was sweet and Perrito making that happen at least makes me tolerate him more in spite of his naiveté.
And then we get our villains for the movie starting off with Goldilocks (voiced by Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears Crime Family (Papa Bear voiced by Ray Winstone, Mama Bear voiced by Olivia Colman and Baby Bear voiced by Samson Kayo). At first, they seem like your typical villains to be an obstacle for the heroes as they fight for the wishing star but Goldilocks proves to be a more complex character than expected with her incredibly sympathetic motivation of wanting a real family. But over time, she comes to learn that her real family is already with her, no need for a wish to grant that. The four of them provide some decent comedy and action and also add to the heart of the movie along with Perrito.
A more straight-up villain that we expect for these kinds of movies is Big Jack Horner (voiced by John Mulaney). I'll admit, I never saw an evil version of Little Jack Horner coming but honestly, I wish the movie left him out and just kept the other villains because he was by far the least interesting of the bunch. His only joke is that he's over-the-top evil and doesn't care about it. Even his backstory fails to make him interesting or sympathetic and only emphasizes what a complete douche he is. His schtick gets old real fast and he's only taking time away from the more interesting characters. He doesn't even feel that threatening either, literally needing a bag of magic tricks to do all the work for him! I feel the movie could've done without him.
But I've saved the best for last here and you all know who I'm talking about! The one and only Death Wolf (voiced by Wagner Moura) himself. This guy is TERRIFYING and I love it! This is the guy that somehow makes a whistle sound creepy, that's how awesomely scary he is! Due to him literally being death itself personified as this big scary wolf with blood red eyes and twin sickles, he is this unstoppable force of nature that is the only thing to truly bring fear to Puss in Boots and he plays a huge part in the cat's character development for he emphasizes the meaning of living your life proper and not being wasteful about it. He's overly sadistic, menacing and played completely straight, making for one of DreamWorks's most intimidating villains ever and he steals the show every time he's on screen. Without him, this film wouldn't have been anywhere near as awesome as it was.
Oh and there's no point comparing the villains of the first movie to this one. The sequel wins, no argument about it.
Not every character is handled well, but the main one is the main reason we're here and he along with some enjoyable villains make for a cool cast of characters to carry out this movie's story. They certainly leave a memorable impression, especially the Death Wolf!
Section 3: The Animation
DreamWorks cited Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse as an inspiration for the animation style here. And yeah, it really shows and they really made it look beautiful here.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish switches the usual Shrek style of animation for this Into the Spider-verse style in where the characters and settings don't look quite as realistic as before with the textures especially being given a more painterly look to them to emphasize the fairy tale aspect. As the animators stated, they were aiming for making this movie look like a fairy tale come to life and the painterly look helps on that front. It really is like watching living illustrations from a children's book because of this style. They also add a few comic book touches to the visuals too like a few impact lines when the characters stomp their feet or when the Death Wolf clashes his sickles together, yet another touch probably inspired by Into the Spider-Verse. The art-style is really lovely to look at and it manages to stay true to the original Shrek style while also giving this movie its own identity to make it stand out from the other films as a result.
The character designs may look a little different thanks to the painterly art style but they still stay true to their Shrek inspired looks with Puss and Kitty looking the same as before and the new characters looking like they fit right into the Shrek universe with their own unique body proportions and characteristics. The highlight of the bunch of course is the Death Wolf with his huge werewolf-esque design, black hooded appearance, twin sickle weapons and blood red eyes that are like staring into hell itself. He looks frightening whenever he's onscreen and those red eyes stand out beautifully amongst his dark, shadowy appearance which only makes him look more terrifying. I mean look at this image and tell me you're not crapping yourself right now!
Like I say! Terrifying!
The Death Wolf also brings out another highlight of the film's animation: the action scenes. As I said, the action scenes are really awesome to watch whether they're intense or exciting and the film's fast-paced action and slick battle choreography bring them to life in a way only animation could do it. I only wish they didn't lower the framerate when the action kicks in though. Like come on guys, you didn't have to follow Into the Spider-verse's example to the point of having a choppy framerate during the action scenes. It only takes away from the awesomeness of the scene and gives us something akin to early seasons of The Dragon Prince, only with a bigger budget. If they kept the framerate consistent throughout the whole movie, the action scenes would've looked even better. Still, the action itself is still pretty awesome in spite of that.
The film is also pretty damn gorgeous to look at thanks to its art style with a lot of beautiful colourful scenes on display whether it's the Dark Forest changing its environments to whoever is holding the map, the pretty looking village Puss lives in, the cosy looking cat home he retires to or especially the climax as they fight on the wishing star. The colours just pop effortlessly and add so much eye-catching beauty to the visuals that you can't take your eyes away. It's so pretty to look at! They also make a great use of colour to set the mood of the scene too, namely the scene where Puss meets Death for the first time. The scene is portrayed with dark, moody colours with a lot of black in places and you have the dark, shadowy wolf contrasted with the bright, ginger-coloured Puss in Boots as you watch the bold, brave hero fight against death itself. Even the Dark Forest plays around with its colour palette with Perrito's environments being the most colourful and at times, most inviting while the others who hold the map have less colourful, less friendly environments to navigate. There's a lot of colour to see no matter what scene you're in and it's so lovely to look at.
Also, can I just say how clever it was to have the Dark Forest be this ever-changing environment where what you see and walk through is dependent on who's in charge of the amp? That's so creative and it was so fun to watch the animators bring it to life! And it's so...fairy tale in its concept and execution too, which is damn perfect for a fairy tale based movie! I wouldn't mind seeing this concept again in other movies as that was so cool and fun and showed off a lot of creativity.
While I do like the old DreamWorks animation style, this animation style is damn beautiful to watch and I like how DreamWorks are getting creative with their animation lately to make their movies look more visually distinct from one another. It started with The Bad Guys and it's carried on through Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. I wonder what artstyles they'll play with in the future in their next films...
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is DreamWorks's best movie they've made outside of the first two Shrek films and the Kung Fu Panda trilogy. While I think it got a little overhyped, it is by no means an excellent film in its own right. The story is very strong with some deep themes, a lot of humour and a surprisingly dark tone that makes it engaging to watch, the characters are enjoyable and memorable, the animation is gorgeous and the action scenes are exciting to watch. This film far eclipses the first movie and I'd probably say that yes, it's up there with Shrek and Shrek 2 as among the best DreamWorks movies. I would say go see it, but given how everyone on the internet is going mad about it, I think it's safe to say you already have at this point. If you haven't, then I recommend it wholeheartedly. This was a movie in where Puss's greatest wish was for a great sequel and he more than got his wish with this film...
And that's all I have for Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. I hope you enjoyed the review and as always, I leave the mic over to you for you guys. Do you like the movie as well? Do you not like it? Tell all about it down below in the comments. Tune in next time as we celebrate Valentine's Day with a retrospective on Luz and Amity's romance. See you then media fans!