REVIEW: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) dir. Joel Crawford

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As we all know, the Shrek films are hideously animated, garish, and crass. You can like Shrek, Shrek 2, and Shrek Forever After, but you’re never going to call them beautiful. You can’t like Shrek the Third at all. Pleasant imagery comes second to pop culture references and toilet humor– until now. For some reason, the new sequel to 2011’s spin-off Puss in Boots has some of the best animation I’ve seen this year. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, is basically good for no reason: fast paced, dynamic fight sequences, a story that values character arcs over non sequiturs, and an understanding that animation doesn’t have to look realistic in order to impress. The further we get from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the more it seems like it’s the best thing to happen to American animation in ages. Like Spider-Verse, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish plays around with frame rate and moves between 3D and 2D depending on what the scene needs dramatically. And it looks great! Who knew?

After the events of the original film and Shrek Forever After (I think? The film’s actual connection to the Shrek series is mercifully limited to a couple flashbacks and cameos), Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) is living it up with a cabal of devoted fans and fellow outlaws. The good times come to an end when Puss is crushed by a bell and dies. Fortunately he comes back good as new: as we all know, cats have nine lives. What Puss hasn’t considered until now is that this is his last life, and any further accidents will kill him for good. Puss loses his nerve, running from a bounty hunter and deciding he’s better off retiring. Of course, he can’t stay domesticated for long as Goldilocks and the Three Bears crime family (voiced, insanely, by Florence Pugh, Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) come knocking. Seems there is an enchanted wishing star in the deepest part of the Dark Forest, and Goldi wants Puss’ help to track it down a magical map. Puss decides he can use this wish to restore his lost lives, and the quest begins.

Puss wants to work alone, but he’s followed by Perrito (Harvey Guillén), an aspiring therapy dog, and his old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Kitty doesn’t trust Puss to let him keep the map, while Perrito is just excited to have friends. The reluctant team stumbles through the Dark Forest as the scenery magically changes depending on who’s holding the map. Each new scene brings visual splendor, climaxing in a five-way fight for the wish on a star-shaped platform surrounded by a sparkling forcefield. The film sags a bit whenever the action slows, but things build to a satisfying conclusion for Puss and company filled with drama and heart. I truly did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did, but Dreamworks has stumbled onto something really special by letting this team go crazy with it.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is excellent theatrical counterprogramming if your kids can’t last for three hours on Pandora. There are barely any pop culture-based groaners and only a couple bathroom jokes (if you think you’re not getting a litter box joke, be serious). It’s just a solid adventure that doubles as a meditation on mortality! If Shrek 5 actually happens and it looks like this, maybe it can be more than a soulless nostalgia cash-in.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Dir. Joel Crawford
102 min

In theaters everywhere Wednesday, December 21st

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