Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (aka Puss in Boots 2: The Last Wish / Puss in Boots 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Having made his debut in Shrek 2, Puss in Boots has become Dreamworks’ most notable spin-off character. He’s appeared in the following two Shrek movies, his movie, and a TV series. After nearly two decades of becoming notable for his rapier wit and cat-style cuteness, it’d be easy to scoff at The Last Wish as a tired tale for the cat in boots who swipes with swords. And, yet, here we are with what may be one of the best films to come out of the franchise since Shrek 2.
What makes The Last Wish such a compelling animated film is that there’s a bolder story to tell rather than the mere riffing on familiar fairytale elements. Puss (Antonio Banderas) is still an eccentric swordfighter who laughs at authority and fights any challenge that comes his way. But he’s getting on in years and is using up more of his life than he initially thought. Now down to the last of his nine lives, the specter of Death, portrayed as a sickle-wielding wolf voiced by Wagner Moura, stalks Puss and waits for his other boot to slip into the grave. It’s spooky stuff that makes Puss question his mortality, no longer able to laugh at death the same way he did before.
The only hope for Puss, besides the degrading retirement of a housecat that he favors briefly, lies in a wishing star that has crashlanded. Those who find the star will be granted one wish, and Puss fervently desires more life. His quest finds him gaining the most unlikely of allies with a deceptive cat thief called Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and the innocent therapy dog, Perrito (Harvey Guillén). He also has some enemies to counter with the mob boss Jack Horner (John Mulaney) and the gang-like mentality of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her three bears (Olivia Coleman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo). While Goldilocks shakes down others for info, Horner uses his array of fairytale items to lay waste to any who get in his way (including his men).
It should come as no surprise that this film is brimming with lavish CGI animation for the fantastical nature of a story in a realm of fairytale lore. There are dazzling sights as the magical map instantly transforms the path into marvelous sights of floating islands and wondrous forests. The fight scenes are particularly worth noting for the reduced framerates, and the dynamic poses focused on by the camera, presenting action as thrilling as it is easy to read. The opening fight with Puss battling a giant monster while using a bell as a weapon is brilliantly staged. Every shot feels remarkable for zooming in and out without giving the audience vertigo. Dicing up the animation styles in this manner allows the slower moments better chances to breathe with the detail and fluidity in the animation.
There’s also a cleverness to how the film handles some surprisingly tough topics. How do you adequately communicate the existential dread of realizing you may die some day? This film treats that fear with both absurdity and maturity. It’s a film where you can understand Puss’s desire to keep up his hopeless fight against death while still laughing at such sights as Horner’s men being stripped to their bones by fantastical creatures. Those are just the heavier elements, mind you. There are still plenty of simple moments of comedy in how Puss stabs his giant enemies in the thumbs, and Perrito lets loose with the vulgarity.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a film that is as delightful to the eyes as it is meaningful in its messages of mortality. The fantastic writing makes the animated adventure all the more exciting for the stunning animation and hilarious bits of mocking fairytale convention. It’s doubtful if this will be the last Puss in Boots movie, but it’s a brilliant note to end on if true.