It’s a richly animated sequel more than a decade in the making that manages to deliver an epic story worthy of that time spent away. It’s a film almost guaranteed to go down as an instant classic. The kind of movie that captures imaginations for years to come and sets a new benchmark standard in cinema.
Sorry James Cameron, it’s not Avatar: The Way of Water. It’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
A talking cat with a sword wouldn’t necessarily be anyone’s first choice when asked what silver screen characters provide the best stories about struggling with mortality and finding one’s meaning in life either, but Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is full of surprises.
The story follows Puss as he unexpectedly finds himself on the last of his nine lives. It’s a shocking revelation for someone who fashions themselves as an undying legend, but one that rings painfully true. When a mysterious big bad wolf challenges him to a duel shortly after this discovery, Puss flees and decides it’s time to bury the boots and retire to a less dangerous life. It won’t be until a dramatic last-ditch opportunity to regain his lost lives emerges via a wish entrapped in a lost magical fallen star that Puss decides to spring into action for what may be his last adventure.
In the context of a children’s film, that may sound like a straightforward plot, but much like its main character, The Last Wish is far from ordinary. It handles the complexities of death and the desire to leave a legacy behind with the kind of weighty gravitas that few big budget Hollywood blockbusters have been able to successfully pull off in recent years.
Importantly, the film doesn’t play up Puss’ fear of death as comedy, even if his untimely retirement receives a humorous twist. There are multiple instances during the movie’s sharp hour and 42-minute runtime where Puss experiences literal heart-pounding terror, a sharp contrast for a bold and defiant hero who’s introduced through a song hailing his fearlessness.
The fact that the movie does this without really crossing a line into something too adult is one of the film’s biggest achievements. In that respect, it helps tremendously that The Last Wish pairs Puss’ conflict with the wolf and interpersonal struggle with mortality together with the over-the-top villainy of “Big” Jack Horner as Puss’ rival for the fallen star.
Horner’s depraved behavior is absurd in scope to a comedic extent, a far cry from the dangerous and imposing threat of the wolf. He’s basically a villain for villain’s sake, reveling in the pettiness of his actions and his access to a bottomless collection of dangerous magical trinkets that come with a number of laugh out loud twists.
That push-pull between comedy and pathos is the starring feature of the film. While references to other popular fairytales and magical properties are fast and frequent throughout, one still pulls at the heartstrings in the most unexpected of ways as well. Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ supporting role as a wannabe crime family comes with a story that almost rivals the emotional impact of the central plot, even as other popular fairytale cameos are little more than gag characters.
Even Puss’ adventuring companions, his on-and-off again romantic interest Kitty Softpaws and a happy-go-lucky unnamed puppy companion, balance humor and heart with aplomb. They have complex emotional reasoning behind their individual stories, but never seem to miss the opportunity for a good joke or lighthearted moment along the way to the payoffs.
Those payoffs all hit too, each and every one of them. The movie sticks every landing it needs to, not dropping the ball on any of the storylines it sets up.
The fact that DreamWorks created such an enjoyable, expertly crafted story and wrapped it in some of the best animation this side of Into the Spider-Verse is just icing on the cake. There’s an undeniable sense of style here, much like Spider-Verse, that helps set The Last Wish’s tone and breathes life into some of the key action sequences. The animators created a practical Best Lead Actor quality performance for Puss in particular, pulling so many different emotions into his feline features that it’s almost as if Antonio Banderas was physically on screen himself.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the total package, in other words. Simply put, it’s the new bar for animated features in the 2020s.
Spotlight Score: 10/10