Directed by: Joel Crawford
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
More than a decade after the original standalone Puss in Boots movie, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is able to justify its existence by being a creative exercise in modern animation and clever storytelling. Like Dreamworks Animation’s previous effort in 2022, “The Bad Guys,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” continues the use of the expressive cinematic animation style of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This newfound style, which was also used in “Mitchell vs. the Machines,” has seemingly allowed the studio animators newfound freedom as, unlike its predecessor, this film is moving at an energy not previously felt in the other “Shrek” movies. Gone are the overt references to other pieces of pop culture and loving odes to genre conventions. The results are something surprising and fresh that might mean another boon period in Dreamworks Animation.
It also helps that “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has a surprisingly engaging story around the theme of mortality. Antonio Banderas is back as the swashbuckling Puss in Boots, a cross between an Errol Flynn character and Banderas’s version of Zorro. Puss has gone years being a successful desperado, taking from the rich and distributing to the poor. But, when he discovers that he has used eight of his nine lives, his sudden realization of his own mortality freezes his ability as a legendary outlaw. Even the literal manifestation of death, characterized as the big bad wolf is after him. The only way to regain his confidence is for Puss to get the map to a wishing star. But also after the star is the Cockney crime gang of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo), the bovine-sized “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), and Puss’s old-flame, Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek).
The fun from the film comes from the clear fun that the animators and voice actors are having. This new expressive style that takes inspiration from comic books and Tex Avery has seemingly given the creatives new life. From the opening musical number set in a tavern to the genuinely menacing moments with the big bad wolf, the set pieces are big and vibrant. That and the wealth of a talented voice cast gives each character depth and dimension, even if they are all caricatures. Along with the richly textured visual palette, is a textured story, with multiple layers beyond mortality. Simple themes of empathy and selflessness are told with the complexities that they deserve.
If anything holds “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” back is that it struggles to earn the hour-and-a-half runtime. Moving at a blistering pace can get tiring after a while, especially if there is not enough momentum in the second act. This also calls to question whether this style will lose some of its luster as the success of this film and “The Bad Guys” seemingly become Dreamworks’ house style. “Shrek” spawned a slew of adult-skewing CGI animated films with diminishing returns, not only in the sequels but in creative flops like “Shark Tale” or “Over the Hedge.” It is easy to imagine that this freeing expressive style will become similarly rote with numerous duplications.
Alas, as for now, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is better than it has any right to be. It is a film overflowing with creativity that, like Puss, has given new life to an animation studio that seemed to be death’s door. Let’s hope that this newfound creative resurgence is not wasted.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” Trailer