Review: 'Puss in Boots: The Last Wish'
Before Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, even. How about DreamWorks Animation's new studio bumper? It's a bit ostentatious, even a bit overly pleased with itself. Maybe goes on a little long. But, then again, what studio bumper doesn't, nowadays? But, being a celebration of DreamWorks past triumphs, it's interesting to note what franchises were chosen to be spotlighted.
Right out the gate, the Bad Guys are getting quite a vote of confidence, despite being the new guys with one movie under their belts. So I think it's safe to say we're getting a sequel. Also for furries, the Kung Fu Panda series is featured, and we already know that's got a fourth movie coming. The How To Train Your Dragon series is also represented by Toothless, despite the fact that the last movie came to a very decisive story end. It's one of the more acclaimed franchises of DreamWorks, so it has to show up, and even if there are no more movies, smaller screen spinoffs are still happening. There are also appearances by the Trolls and Boss Baby franchises, but they aren't furry, so who cares?
There are some notable absences, however. Despite featuring four movies, the Madagascar franchise is ignored. Spirit, you know, the one with the horse? That somehow managed two movies, but is apparently not an ongoing concern. And obviously, the Shrek franchise is prominently featured, but the star of the movie we're about to actually start reviewing is not. Maybe he'll show up in the bumper for movies he's not the star of?
Well, anyway, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the sequel to 2011's Puss in Boots, which itself is a spinoff of the aforementioned Shrek franchise. The titular character Puss has been voiced by Antonio Banderas in all theatrical releases since Shrek 2. Puss in Boots seems to have taken place before at least Shrek 2, chronologically, while this movie seems to be the last movie in the current timeline of the series, if that even really matters to anyone. Joel Crawford takes over as director, with previous director's credit on The Croods: A New Age. Outside of Puss, the only returning character is Kitty Softpaws, voiced by Salma Hayek, Puss's literal cat burglar love interest.
Puss gains a new traveling companion, a little dog voiced by Harvey Guillén, who, despite being an unloved and abandoned orphan, is always cheery, upbeat and optimistic. Puss meets and is unable to get rid of this dog while hiding out from what he believes are bounty hunters out to get him, dead or alive, for crimes that are never specified, and which Puss is probably innocent of, if the first movie is any indication. He mostly seems to spend his time being generally heroic or helping Shrek plan his children's birthday parties rather than anything malicious or criminal. But anyway, he's wanted dead or alive for something, and he's recently lost his eighth life, meaning he's on his last life.
There ends up being no actual bounty hunters chasing him. Goldilocks (voiced by Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Ray Winstone as Papa, Olivia Colman as Mama and Samson Kayo as an adult Baby) are amateur criminals actually looking to recruit Puss on a score to gain a Wishing Star. Their first choice was actually Kitty Softpaws, but she double-crossed them to gain the map to the star for herself. Puss ends ups teaming with her, hoping to gain the star and wish for his eight lost lives back.
Puss was at first not super taken aback by the fact he's on his last life, but an encounter with what he took to be just another bounty hunting talking wolf (voiced by Wagner Moura) put the fear of death in him. This wolf, wielding a pair of scythes and an eerie whistle, stays on Puss's trail, though he has no interest in the Wishing Star, or the bounty, for that matter. Let's just say he gives new meaning to the phrase "anthropomorphic personification". Note that a version of the Three Bears and a Big Bad Wolf have appeared in previous Shrek movies, but the Three Bears especially are working on a "it's been two decades since that background joke, everyone's forgot, right?" premise. The Big Bad Wolf is a recurring character in the Shrek main series, however, but the wolf of The Last Wish is obviously not that character.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears have their own side story, involving common DreamWorks thematic elements of orphans and adoptions, while the wolf is not necessarily evil, either, being a bit beyond simple morality. The real villain of the piece is the former Little Jack Horner of the nursery rhyme, now known as Big Jack Horner, voiced by John Mulaney. Jack (which is actually the second villainous Jack Puss has encountered) is a spoiled rich kid who inherited a pastry empire and uses his unearned funds to collect magical artifacts and now wants the Wishing Star to wish for all the remaining magic in the world in one go. Between Jack and the villain of the recent Glass Onion, it seems Hollywood was ready for Elon Musk's final heel revelation late last year.
Compared to Puss in Boots back in 2011, 2022's The Last Wish has a much more stylized animation style. While the 2011 movie strove for a near realistic look (or, at least, as realistic a movie about a talking cat and talking egg teaming up could look), The Last Wish features a consciously painterly look (the fur of the Three Bears literally look like they were painted on). The colors are much more saturated, with Puss's orange tabby fur making his green eyes pop, which are more of a lime green this time around, rather than the emerald of the 2011 movie. Fight scenes are especially stylized, with notable cutting of frames to give the movement a "ramped" up look, like a 2000s era action movie. The most interesting thing about this it that while it seems like a decade of stylistic changes are being made, most of the trends being followed here have only become really noticeable in the last couple of years, as the hyper-realistic style was the main mode of American CGI for most of the 2010s.
This movie is a lot of fun, it looks great, and there are a lot of interesting ideas floating just under the surface here. Jack Horner is a wonderful villain, the wolf is an incredibly dark element to throw into the mix, and Kitty's relationship with Puss is surprisingly mature. I'd also say it's the best Pinocchio movie of the year, with a running gag involving a judgmental cricket character (a bit inexplicably given a Jimmy Stewart parody voice), even a cameo by the Shrek version of Pinocchio, and a beginning that you can tell wants to quote "When You Wish Upon A Star" just so bad, but like Disney's going to let them do that.
The movie has to make due with the "Fairytale" theme from Shrek, which was, in the beginning, just a set up to a butt-wiping joke and Smash Mouth, after all. Still pretty good, though.