Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Review: Our Favorite Fearless Hero Returns
Puss in Boots returns for The Last Wish, a wild and imaginative animated adventure that ranks high as one of the Shrek franchise’s best films.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is finally giving me hope that the Shrek franchise may not be dead yet. The film opens with one of the most thrilling action set pieces I’ve seen in an animated film all year (and probably the most thrilling one, since I won’t watch another animated film before the end of the year), impeccably scored by Heitor Perreira as our titular character (Antonio Banderas) sings “Who is our favorite fearless hero?” as he battles a giant. I was locked into the movie, and there was no going back.
At some point, it goes a bit too conventional for my taste, as Puss in Boots looks for the wishing star to wish for all of his nine lives to come back. After dying for the eighth time, Puss is in his ninth and final life. He is being pursued by a relentless bounty hunter (Wagner Moura) who will stop at nothing until Puss is killed. After overhearing from Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo) that the wishing star does exist, Puss, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Perrito (Harvey Guillén) go look for it. However, Goldilocks is also looking for it, alongside “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who plans to use the star for his own nefarious plans.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of story. However, not only is the film surprisingly mature in how it handles themes of the impending “fear” of death, and our quest for eternal life, but it’s also amazingly creative in its animation style and boasts an impeccable voice cast to boot. The action sequences dazzle with bright colors and pitch-perfect precision as Puss, Kitty, or any other characters zip through the unpredictable dark forest, where their deepest thoughts become the path to the wishing star. That framing device allows for director Joel Crawford to craft amazing chase scenes, where everyone is after the same object, but the changing of paths to whoever touches the map makes for a long and perilous quest filled with surprises at every corner.
That aspect of the film is brilliant, but what’s more interesting is how it humanizes Puss in Boots in ways we’ve never seen before. In the Shrek franchise, Puss in Boots has always been used either for comic relief or as a punchline for Shrek (Mike Myers) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy). And even in the first Puss in Boots spinoff, his mannerisms stay true to the character Banderas established in the Shrek films, without any variation on his arc. In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, we get to see what made Puss in Boots the “legend” that he is – someone who “laughs in the face of death” until Death stares at him right in the face.
Those scenes, where Death literally and figuratively stares at him in the face, are the film’s best. They may be too scary for younger viewers, but it they establishes an incredible atmosphere, and an actual sense of tension. Though the filmmakers would be complete fools to kill him off, there are times where you genuinely believe that Puss in Boots, or at least one of the supporting characters, will not make it out alive of this journey. Banderas gives an impeccable amount of vulnerability for the first time as Puss in Boots, and shows that there’s more to his legendary stature if you peel back his façade and showcase his insecurities. I’ve never seen Puss in Boots scared – no, scratch that – terrified at the sight of death, but you see him fear for his life multiple times. It adds a great layer of depth to a character that previously did not have any.
The same can be said for the film’s side characters, who brilliantly remythologize the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to a more emotional level. Florence Pugh lends her voice to Goldilocks and brings a great amount of levity, while having great chemistry with Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo’s bears. Harvey Guillén is also a great addition to the cast as Perrito, replacing Donkey as the movie’s comedic relief, and having great banter with Banderas and Hayek, who is as good as Kitty Softpaws was in the first film. As for the villains, John Mulaney isn’t that great as Jack Horner, compared to Wagner Moura’s bounty hunter whose hair literally raises as he appears. The less said about his character, the better, but he is so frightening that it’s a shame they didn’t make him the film’s main villain.
And even with minor story and character flaws, the movie still works immensely. Kids that are too young for Avatar: The Way of Water will flock to see Puss in Boots: The Last Wish during the holiday season, and justifiably so. But I was surprised at how scary it was, atmospherically, at times. This could be the next Watership Down for kids, in terms of scares. I’m not even kidding. But it’s great to see an animated film blend impeccable action, tense atmospheric horror and sharply written comedy like this to give children the ultimate family adventure during the holiday season, without being afraid to challenge them on how they should enjoy their lives while they still can, before death comes creeping at their door… It’s the unfortunate part of life, but the film handles that aspect brilliantly. Now give us Shrek 5 already. The world needs it.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is now showing in US theaters and will be released globally in cinemas on December 23, 2022.