Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
This animated sequel is surprisingly irresistible
It can be easy to build preconceived notions about the type of movie that an animated sequel to a spin-off series could be, yet movies such as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) show us why it’s always essential to come to any film with an open mind.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the sequel to Puss in Boots (2011), which itself is a spin-off of the Shrek franchise’s popular side-character. In this sequel, Puss (Antonio Banderas) finds he’s spent eight of his cat lives and is down to one. This prompts him to search for a fallen wishing star, which will grant him any wish he wants, and could restore his lives. Along the way he’s met with other rivals, like Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears, his old frenemy Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), an unnamed dog (Harvey Guillen), and the greedy and boisterous Jack Horner (John Mulaney). Puss also comes face to face with a mysterious scary wolf (Wagner Moura), that forces him to face his mortality.
The Last Wish is directed by Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado, who had previously helmed The Croods: A New Age (2020), which proved to be an acceptable if by-the-numbers animated sequel. With The Last Wish, however, they manage to hit the sweet spot in almost every scene, delivering entertaining action and adventure while miraculously threading an effective emotional thread. What proves to be the winning aspect of The Last Wish is its focus on character. Puss truly feels like he is on an existential journey, trying to figure out what kind of person he wants to be. Likewise, the side characters have their own moving character moments, with Goldilocks and the three bears being the most effective. Jack Horner was the more throwaway of the villains, shoehorned out of a necessity to show children a big baddie instead of complex characters with opposing views. It’s a sad concession that feels more like a studio note than what the story was organically demanding.
The Last Wish takes on a refreshing new direction in animation, which the previous DreamWorks film The Bad Guys (2022) had already started upon. It was that of reverting to an animation style that feels hand-drawn again. This helps add to the atmospheric feel of living in a fairytale book, and the action scenes will remind many viewers of Japanese anime. This choice not only must have been more economical for the studio, which doesn’t have to continue its expensive race for photorealism with rivals, but also adds a dimension of personalization that makes hand-drawn animation so intimate.
Banderas returns for his iconic animated role and is here for more than a paycheck. The Spanish actor shows a true dedication to this character, and you hear him showcase it in Puss’ existential panic scenes. Hayek returns to her role from the previous film, but it was Guillen as the unnamed dog that truly steals the heart of the audience, with a seeming endless optimism despite the blows that life has dealt him.
In the end, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a winning animated film. It returns to DreamWorks’ golden era when their animated films felt more geared towards adults than children; this is apparent in the return of adult jokes and winks. Utilizing a nostalgic animated style and employing a simple, but highly effective narrative with a character focus, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish achieved something I didn’t think possible, anticipating more Shrek-universe films.