Puss in Boots has always been a bit of an outsider in the Shrek movies; darker, more serious, but still fitting with the goofy tone of the films when needed. The first solo Puss in Boots movie felt like a breath of fresh air, a proper adventure rather than just a pastiche, and now, over a decade later, Puss in Boots returns once again to breathe new life into the Shrek franchise with one of the best animated movies of the year. There are pop culture references and needle drops, but they are in service of a rather mature and complex story about facing death and embracing life as it follows an adventurer at the tail end of his life. Make no mistake, this is the Logan of the Shrek franchise we didn’t know we needed.
After countless death-defying stunts and adventures, Puss in Boots is at the top of his game. The cat feels invincible and constantly brags about his exploits in song, and puts himself in unnecessary danger — that is, until he discovers he’s on his last life and it can all end at any moment. Worse yet, he’s being chased by death incarnate, Big Bad Wolf (a fantastic and terrifying Wagner Moura). His only salvation? A mythical wishing star that can grant him his lives back, if he gets to it before a collection of fairy tale characters beats him to the treasure.
Like Logan, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is heavily inspired by westerns in its depiction of an old cowboy confronting his own mortality after a lifetime of great tales and adventures. From the vast plains, the use of Spanish in both music and dialogue — with the film putting its Hispanic cast to great use, adding to the authenticity — you can easily replace Puss’ sword for a gun, and his cape for a poncho and think it’s a kids’ version of Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name.
It’s one of the darkest and most mature movies DreamWorks Animation has done in years, with themes about confronting death and reckoning with some hard truths — like the fact that people you love can betray you, and that you can end up alone. But it’s not all doom and gloom, as the story comes off as rather life-affirming with an uplifting message about embracing every day like it’s your last.
The Logan comparison is not just in tone, but in action too, as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has some of the best action you’ll see in a Western-animated film. The camera movement is dynamic, unafraid to shift to inventive positions or give us unusual angles to place us right in the middle of the action, which at times feels like a big-budget anime. The film even plays with frame rate like Into the Spider-Verse did, shifting between 24 and 12 frames depending on Puss’ confidence. In the first action scene in the movie, where Puss fights a stone giant, the animation is fluid and fast paced, as Puss feels invincible. Later, when fighting Big Bad Wolf, he is animated on twos (12 frames per second), slowing down, losing his confidence, realizing he can be beaten. Also like Into the Spider-Verse, The Last Wish is a technicolor marvel, using a painterly style to give the film a fairy tale look.
It’s also a rare American studio-animated film where the stakes feel real. Any time Moura’s Big Bad Wolf is on screen, you feel the tension thanks to his blood-red eyes, his ominous whistling, and black robe. He is truly death incarnate, and he is scary.
Granted, this is still a DreamWorks movie, so there’s still a lot of jokes. Thankfully, it never pulls a Shrek 2 with a montage of movie references that were already a few years old by the time of release. Instead, The Last Wish has a few contemporary references — a kid rejoicing that Puss stepped on his face — while most are just timeless gags and jokes, most of them involving Harvey Guillén’s Perrito, the true star of the film. If you’re expecting more Shrek-like humor, you might be disappointed. But if you recognize that hearing Antonio Banderas deliver his own eulogy with no one else around him sounds rather hysterical, this is the movie for you.
Speaking of the cast, Western studio-animated movies tend to focus a lot on big-name actors that sound more like, well, the actors themselves than the characters they’re playing. Here, however, the cast doesn’t distract from the story, but adds to it. From Wagner to Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, and even John Mulaney — arguably the most recognizable voice of the bunch — they work in the context of the story and justify their A-list casting. In true Shrek fashion, they play fairy tale characters you may recognize, but in uniquely twisted ways, with the best one being a small role for The Talking Cricket from Pinocchio, who tries to be the bad guy’s conscience but fails miserably at convincing him to not just murder people.
With gorgeous visuals that pop out of the screen, animation that blends 3D and 2D in exhilarating ways to deliver thrilling action scenes, and a poignant yet life-affirming story, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is one of the best animated movies of the year, and a great return to form for the franchise.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish takes not only the Shrek franchise, but DreamWorks Animation to exciting new places. This is a spaghetti western-inspired tale of an aging cowboy on one last adventure with some rather mature themes, aided by stunning animation that mixes 3D with 2D effects, and a painterly style that gives the film a unique look.