Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) Review
The Shrek franchise has been around for quite some time, which showcased the potential that DreamWorks Animation Studios could achieve in their flagship series of Ogres, Princesses, Talking Donkeys, and other fairy tales creatures from the “Once Upon a Time” realm. Though a long-running franchise, the Shrek saga has indeed petered out of steam, with the last mainline title Shrek Forever After being released in 2010. A year after that, DreamWorks released the movie Puss in Boots, a spin-off / solo movie project that focused on the character of Puss in Boots, who was introduced in Shrek 2 and starred as a primary supporting character in the following two sequels. Directed by Chris Miller, the film, which starred the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Zach Galifianakis, follows the adventure of outlaw rogue Puss in Boots, who, along with friends Kitty Softpaws and Humpty Dumpty, are pitted against murderous thugs Jack and Jill for the ownership of three legendary magic beans that leads the trio to great fortune at the giant’s abandoned castle from Jack and the Beanstalk story. While not exactly the best of the franchise, Puss in Boots did receive mostly positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike, becoming a box office success by grossing $555 million on a production budget of $130 million. While main storyline of Shrek might have been over, Puss in Boots lived on after its 2011 film, with a television series spin-off titled The Adventures of Puss in Boots, which lasted for six seasons (2015-2018). Now, after eleven years since the release of the 2011 motion picture, DreamWorks Animation Studios and director Joel Crawford gears up to return to the world of fairy tale creatures and everyone’s “fearless hero” feline with the sequel film Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Is this long-awaited follow-up animated adventure worth a glance or has that magic and allure of the Puss in Boots mantra waned over the years in a bygone product of DreamWorks yesteryear?
Adventurous outlaw Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) remains a celebrated hero to the people, using his signature bravado and bravery to fight evildoers, including a recent encounter with a local giant to save the people of Del Mar. With the giant defeated, Puss meets his end by a fallen church bell, learning he’s lost his eighth life, transitioning to his final one and forcing him to reflect on his love for living through dangerous adventures. Accepting his current circumstance, Puss retires and relocates to cat rescue orphanage, which is run by Mama Luma (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). There, the once fearless cat meets Perrito (Harvey Guillen), an eternally optimistic yet unloved dog dressed as one of the cats, looking to make a new best friend. Unfortunately, his stay at this long-term place is short lived as he is hunted by Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears, including Papa (Ray Winstone), Mama (Olivia Coleman), and Baby (Samson Kayo), Crime Family, prompting Puss to recognize that the fight isn’t over as well as learning that the legendary Wishing Star is real, which inspires a mission to seek it out and return his life to the way it was (nine lives and all). Reluctantly joined by Perrito and unexpectedly reunited with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), Puss and his companions are out to protect a map to the magical star, pursed by Goldie and the Bears as well as gangster crime boss Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who is looking to best various magical objects. Unbeknownst to Puss, however, another threat is following the feline’s tracks in the form of a shadowy Wolf assassin (Wagner Moura), who is looking to settle a score with the fabled, fearless hero.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It’s been sometime seeing I’ve revisited the Shrek franchise (letting alone the character of Puss in Boots from the animated series). I do have to admit that I thought that this cartoon fairy tale saga had somewhat lost its edge after the first two Shrek features. I mean, Shrek and Shrek 2 were brilliant endeavors that had the right balance of action, comedy, and dramatics to make the whole viewing experience fun for the whole family (both young and old). Plus, it was almost like a “breath of fresh air” to see several iconic fairy tale characters, including Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots, brought to life in such humorous ways. That being said, Shrek the Third and Shrek: Forever After felt like a stepped down and did not have the same type of palpable energy or memorable bits that of its two predecessors. Why do I mention this? Well, it was because that slight bit of lackluster animated magic from the last two Shrek movies had played a part in viewing 2011’s Puss in Boots. Of course, I loved Antonio Banderas as the character (was favorite character in the entire Shrek saga) as well as the whole idea of centering an entire film around the character was a great idea. In essence, the character, which was mostly a spin-off side character, was strong enough (and endearing enough) to warrant a solo spin-off animated feature. Plus, I did like the introduction of a female lead character in Kitty Softpaws, with actress Salma Hayek delivering a solid voice performance. The back and forth banter between Banderas and Hayek was my favorite part of the movie. That being said, the movie (to me…at least) felt a bit underwhelming and did not have the same type of stamina as the earlier Shrek movies. Story, while entertaining, felt a bit “meh”, the writing was generic and a bit mundane, and just didn’t have the same type of “pizzazz” as something that I was expecting. I know that I a lot of people liked this movie, but I wasn’t too impressed with it. Maybe I felt like the Shrek series (as a whole) had lost its mojo and needed to be retired. As mentioned above, the movie did prove strong enough to make a Netflix series, yet I never had the chance to see The Adventures of Puss in Boots. Although, while many DreamWorks animated projects have seen life beyond the feature films with episodic TV series, I’ve heard that The Adventures of Puss in Boots had a better life cycle than most.
This brings me back to talking about Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a 2022 fantasy animated motion picture, the fifth Shrek movie franchise, and the follow-up sequel to the 2011 film. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much about this movie. I think I do vaguely remember hearing that DreamWorks (after the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon feature film series concluded) had some interest into returning to the Shrek universe. As mentioned above, I felt the franchise (in a nutshell) has run its course, which is probably why the somewhat moved on the from the popular series and decided to focus on new endeavors. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that DreamWorks Animation announced that a sequel to 2011’s Puss in Boots was in the works. A bit of a headscratcher for me (as for a lot of viewers out there), which saw the resurgence of the iconic character from the Shrek movies return for a second spin-off project. Given the history of DreamWorks have been a bit of “bumpy road” in several of its releases, which is a combination of the company being restructured and seeing several release date changes. Still, I wasn’t fully convinced that moviegoers needed to return to the world of Shrek…. even if it was just another sequel spin-off of everyone’s favorite feline Spanish-style hero. Within time, the film’s promotional marketing campaign began to appear, with the film’s movie trailer playing many times during the “coming attractions” previews when I went to the movies. From the trailer alone, it looked interesting, but I did have some large reservation about this upcoming project. I don’t know…. I just had a weird feeling about it and did not have much interest in seeing it. Of course, I would be seeing it, but I wasn’t too hyped to see this particular animated movie when it was set to be coming out later in 2022. At first, I remember seeing it was originally supposed to be release in September 2022, but then that date was moved to December 21st, 2022. Then…several days before its release…. early reviews for the film were appearing online, with many being positive reviews and praising the feature; something that got my attention really quickly. So, a few days after its theatrical release, I decided to check out Puss in Boots: The Last Wish one afternoon after work. With my busy work schedule, I did have to wait a few weeks before I got to work on my review for this particular movie. Now, with some free time available, I finally can share my personal thoughts on this animated sequel. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually really liked it. Despite a few minor shortcomings, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a spectacular and visually entertaining sequel endeavor that shines above its predecessor. It certainly pays homage to predecessor and still fits very much “in-line” with the Shrek franchise, but it’s able to stand on its own….and that’s a really good thing!
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is directed by Joel Crawford, whose previous directorial works include such animated films like TV holiday special Trolls Holiday and The Croods: The New Age. Given his background as a storyboard artist for DreamWorks, including Kung Fu Panda, Rise of the Guardians, and Shrek Forever After, as well as his directorial works for the animated studio, Crawford seems like a suitable choice to helm such a project like this one, which seeks to revive an interest within the Shrek series. To that end, I think that Crawford succeeds greatly by providing a great follow-up adventure that is pretty much self-contained by doing its own thing. What do I mean by that? Yes, the movie is set within the Shrek universe, with The Last Wish being brimming with fairy tale characters and other fantastical nuances as well as few references to the larger cinematic world at play (i.e., callbacks to Shrek). That being said, Crawford and his team utilizes the cinematic space that they are in, yet still manages to make this film stand on its own merits / two feet, which results in a very much solid presentation of a follow-up sequel to the 2011 spin-off project, but still clearly remain fundamentally a proper “next chapter” with the already established Puss in Boots character. Crawford understand this and makes The Last Wish have a very fun and engaging feature that both entertains and creates poignant meaning within the various context of the feature’s presentation.
The film also excels in providing plenty of action throughout the narrative, which is quite frenetic and full of energy whenever displayed. The Shrek movies, including the Puss in Boots feature, were never really filled with action, but Crawford makes that so with The Last Wish. Some moments are played for laughs during these moments, while other times it’s played for dramatic poignancies. Either way, the action in the movie is something that is to be enjoyed and is a welcomed sight for some animated cartoon. In addition to this, this Puss in Boots sequel has plenty of comedy to go around and does provide bountiful laughs throughout the feature. Of course, this being a kid’s movie, there a still a lot of kid-friendly humor throughout the movie’s story, which surely do hit their intended marks, but being a DreamWorks project, there are a few risqué adult humor moments that some of the adult viewers will find a humorous; something that the Shrek franchise is known for. In fact, I actually laughed quite a lot while watching this and brought the most I laughed during a 2022 picture. Thus, the comedy in The Last Wish is quite spot on and I loved it. Interestingly, Crawford and his animators also utilize a unique style of animation (more on that below), but it also blends together 3D and 2D style of animation that creates such a beautiful and visually impressive, animated feature that stands tall and proud amongst its predecessors. In short, I think Crawford was the right person for the job (in the director’s chair) in making The Last Wish feels like a fantastic follow-up sequel that works and is a masterful job in breathing new life into an old franchise.
As for the story, I think that The Last Wish is great and very mature story that explores a lot of heavy themes / messages, yet still retains the charming and fun throughout. The film’s writers, which include Paul Fisher, Tommy Swerdlow, and Tom Wheeler, incorporate several influences in the story of The Last Wish, with some drawing parallels to 2017’s Logan or even Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name trilogy. Like both movie endeavors, especially in Logan, the story for The Last Wish draws inspirations from western lore / depictions of aged, old gunslinger cowboy that is confronted by his own mortality after a lifetime of greatness and adventure. With the usage of plains, several Spanish style of places (along with music influences and dialogue), one can easily see the similarities, which I believe was the intentions of the writers. On that notion, I do give credit to them, with the movie offering a animated Western-style adventure that mixes cartoon humor and heart, fairy tale callbacks and references, and cowboy “wild west” mantra. Coinciding with that, the writers for The Last Wish is also the darkest and most mature films that DreamWorks Animation has ever produced, with several powerful themes, including death and wrestling with some hard (sometimes cold) truths such as end up being alone, being betrayed by loved ones, and those looking for friendships. It can be a little bit darker than normal animated kid-friendly movies, which can be a little problematic sometimes (more on that below), but I do give credit to the film’s writers, with the movie’s script manages to tackle such hard-hitting narratives and emotional moods without losing sight of being fun, entertaining, and leaving an uplifting message about embracing every like it’s your last. This is indeed a palpable message that The Last Wish leaves its viewers with and I, for one, welcome the mature narrative (along with its darker elements) for a more engaging and well-rounded endeavor.
In the presentation category, The Last Wish excels and dazzles viewers with such animation nuances that generate such vibrancy and colorful palette throughout. While the Shrek franchise, including the first Puss in Boots movie, had the more traditional style of animation that the series was known for (CGI rendering animation) across the board, this particular film breaks that particular formula and utilizes some amazing style of animation to help bring this cartoon adventure to life. Much like other memorable animated films of late that embraces a different style of animation such as Mitchells vs. the Machines and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is fantastic technicolor marvel that uses painterly-like style to give the film a sublime blend of a fairy-tale storybook look and appeal. This results in a very dynamic and vivid animated feature that sparkles immensely with such vibrant colors and brightness that it makes for a very visual feast for the eyes to soak up. Every scene is intricate detailed and embraces with such wonderful style of animation rendering. Speaking of rendering, The Last Wish, much like Into the Spider-Verse did, helps to create such diverse and creative camera movement by changing the frame rate between 24 and 12 frames per second, which showcases some really unique sequences of action. To me, it’s cleverly done and helps build tension / drama in the movie and adds that extra layer of heightened cinematic to the proceedings. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Nate Wragg (production design), Joseph Feinsilver (art direction), and entire visual artist that brought The Last Wish to life, especially when demonstrating how cinematic and astounding the movie is when tackling a wide variety of moments, including action, comedy, and drama. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Heitor Pereira, is a terrific one that helps build upon the movie’s scenes…..whether it is a bombastic action one with heroic flourishes or a quieter dialogue driven moment that helps draw in a viewer’s attention to detail. Pereira’s work on The Last Wish is just fantastic to listen throughout the picture. Addition, the movie does offer a nice selection vocal music to the soundtrack and helps provide another lyrical flavor to the feature’s proceedings.
While I do greatly enjoyed a lot about this movie, The Last Wish does a few minor points of criticisms that I felt made the movie feel a bit tad rough around its edges. Perhaps the one that I mentioned above can be also seeing as a slight negative on the feature. Which one? Well, the part where the movie is bit more dark than its predecessor. Matured narratives in an on-going story / series is (again) a welcomed one for this franchise, especially since that plays a part in the feature’s main plot, yet that doesn’t come without a few hiccups. Since this movie is gear towards the tween age (even a little younger, in my opinion), it does create a few times where the movie treads into more darker / scarier moments that some of the targeted demographic viewers might get a bit afraid of. Several moments, especially those one including the character of the Wolf, could possibly be nightmare fueled for some of the younger, sensitive viewers out there. In addition, several dark moments are also on place throughout the movie, especially found in Jack Horner’s treatment of his minions, which are counterbalanced by humor, yet still feel a tad darker than normal animated endeavors.
As for the story itself, The Last Wish’s narrative plot is a bit predicable, despite its attempts to elevate everything with its visual style, humor, and characters. Again, doesn’t fully bother me as I did find the plot of the movie to be intriguing, yet there are still those “moments” where a viewer, despite a person’s age, can see how everything is going to play out. Also, I do feel that the film could’ve utilized a few more plotting and “adventure” scenes throughout the progression. Yes, I do give the movie credit for creating a solid project with a good pace, but, after watching The Last Wish several times, I felt like there could’ve been more “smaller” action scenes and / or adventure moments in the film. Additionally, to the notion of villains, the movie does a few way too many antagonist that the movie incorporates throughout the narrative. It’s not a complete “deal breaker”, but it does feel like there is too many “cooks in the villain’s kitchen” in the movie and the script could’ve easily weeded out one or even possibly two antagonists out there final edit and still retain the fundamentals to The Last Wish’s story. Collectively, these points of criticisms don’t exactly necessarily derail the movie in any way shape or form, but (to me, at least) are just minor blemishes on an otherwise solid sequel endeavor.
The cast in The Last Wish is solid across the board, with the assemblage of acting talents involved on this animated project bring their “A” game and theatrical energy to bring these characters (some of them iconic fairy tale characters) to life in a fun and amusing way. Perhaps the best one of the entire film would be the feature’s central main protagonist in the form of Puss in Boots, who is once again by actor Antonio Banderas. Known for his roles in Desperado, The Mask of Zorro, and The 13th Warrior, has certainly had made a name for himself throughout his career, with special attention (for this movie review) towards his animated voicework in the Shrek franchise, with his debut back in Shrek 2 as the legendary Puss in Boots character. To be sure, Banderas made the character his own, with the iconic character adding that Spanish flavor to his adventurous swagger. It’s been quite sometime since Banderas has stepped back in the role (or rather boots) of Puss, but he does it with such effortless ease by sliding back into the character’s bravado and personality. As mentioned above, I do like the film’s thematic message about death and finding meaning in life (appreciating the life you have) , which is basically the story arc for the both the movie and for Puss himself. It is a much better character arc than the first Puss in Boots spin-off project and, though it may be a bit predictable in its undertaking, it’s still a wholesome message to discuss and talk about within a character who is quite fearless throughout his life. Plus, Banderas hasn’t lost his touch and generates plenty of emotions (humor and heart) in his return to Puss. In the end, it was great to see / hear Banderas back as the infamous Puss in Boots and he clearly hasn’t lost a step in voicing such a vibrant and lively character.
The second major player in the movie is also another returning character from the Shrek franchise, with the character of Kitty Softpaws, who is once again voiced by actress Salma Hayek. Known for her roles in Desperado, Frida, and House of Gucci, Hayek is no stranger to this fairy tale franchise, with the actress reprising her character role from the 2011 spin-off film, which introduced Kitty Softpaws to the Shrek series. Like Banderas, Hayek easily slides back into the role of Kitty (a role she hasn’t played in over 11 years) and simply hasn’t lost her touch in providing a very energetic and engaging character. Since most of the character’s backstory / heavy lifting occurred during the first Puss in Boots film, Crawford and his team “jump” right into Kitty’s involvement in The Last Wish’s main plot, without rehashing a lot of unnecessary detail about her character. Sure, there isn’t much character growth in comparison to her other character leads in the film, but it’s really great to see such Kitty thrown “back into the mix” of the Puss in Boots narrative. Likewise, Hayek is still fantastic as Kitty and the constant “back and forth” banter between her and Banderas’s Puss is the highlight of the feature.
The last of three main character is Perrito, a friendly and naïve dog who is looking for some friendship / companionship with Puss (along with Kitty) on their adventure, who is voiced by actor Harvey Guillen. Known for his roles in The Internship, Eye Candy, and What We Do in the Shadows, Guillen is quite the household name that many recognize, especially in comparing to his lead co-stars of Banderas and Hayek. That being said, Guillen feels right at home with his co-stars throughout the movie by bring to life Perrito in such a lively and animated way. Guillen brings the right amount of likeability and fun optimism to the character and makes for one of the best new additions to the franchise. Plus, as mentioned, Guillen fits perfectly along side the banter of Banderas’s Puss and Hayek’s Kitty (as well as the rest of the film’s character Perrito interacts with). The character’s backstory quite fits into the movie’s themes and message and acts as a great foil to Puss’s determination of getting his wish. I personally loved him in the movie and I certainly hope that if a follow-up sequel gets made that Guillen’s Perrito returns.
Looking past the feature’s main heroes, The Last Wish has several main antagonist that causes trouble for Puss, Kitty, and Perrito on their journey. Perhaps the “big bad” in the movie would be the character of Big Jack Horner, a feared pastry chef and crime lord who is also after the Wishing Star throughout the movie, and who is voiced by actor John Mulaney (Big Mouth and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). I think that Mulaney does a very good job in voicing Big Jack, who has plenty of the loud and boisterous personality to the character (as well as touch of snark bravado). Plus, much like the previous movies set in the universe, it’s kind of amusing to see such iconic fairy tale character (well, nursery rhyme character) reimagined as a villainous mobster crime boss. The problem? Well, much like what I mentioned above, The Last Wish has a bit “too many villains” running around and it sort of gets a bit too crowded. I do understand the involvement of the other antagonist, but Big Jack Horner sort of is the weakest villain. He’s definitely a sizeable threat (both his physical size and his ambitions to reach the Wishing Star first), but the reason for his main villainy seems weak and kind of vague and doesn’t really have much connection to the main characters rather than the rest of the bad guys. Thus, Big Jack Horner, while voiced solidly by Mulaney, could’ve been easily eliminated from the film and still retain the same type of energy and conformity to the narrative.
Who actually fares much better (in my opinion) as The Last Wish’s villain would be the character of “The Wolf”, a deadly assassin who pursues Puss in Boots throughout the movie and who is voiced by Wagner Moura (Narcos and Elysium). Everything about this character was terrific. He was cool looking (love the character design of him), definitely intimidating, and proved to be a worthy foe in the movie, especially with his connection to Puss. Plus, Moura does exceptionally well in providing the voice for the Wolf and brings such a wonderful voice for the character that’s both menacing and sly. Much like what I said earlier, this particular character can be a little bit scary for some of the younger viewers out there as he designed to be a bit more menacing and evil looking than say Big Jack Horner. Heck, he’s probably the most “scariest” villain in the entire Shrek franchise. So, again, just a small word of caution for some younger viewers out there. Still, regardless of that point, I felt that the character of the Wolf was the best villain in the whole franchise (let alone in The Last Wish) and, along with his design look and voice work by Moura, makes for one devious antagonist for such a character like Puss in Boots to face off against. Loved it!
The other villains in The Last Wish (i.e. Goldilocks and the three bears)are pretty good and offer up some lighthearted moments in amongst their own bickering with one another. Examining them all creates some fun, with the voice acting for these iconic fairy tale characters proves to be quite effective in their representation in the film. This includes actress Florence Pugh (Little Women and Don’t Worry Darling) as Goldilocks), actress Olivia Coleman (The Crown and The Favourite) as Mama Bear, actor Ray Winstone (The Departed and Beowulf) as Papa Bear, and actor Samson Kayo (Bloods and Our Flag Means Death) as Baby Bear. Collectively, these acting talents that play these characters are great and definitely riff on their fairy tale character personas, yet also interject their own theatrical personality into them (i.e. Goldilocks as the somewhat “ringleader” of the group, Papa Bear with a grizzled fatherly figure, Mama Bear as the lovely warmth motherly persona, etc.). This makes their iterations in The Last Wish wonderfully and memorable throughout, with the classic Goldilocks and three Bears characters are terrific addition to both the movie and a part of the Shrek universe.
The rest of the cast, including actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Guilty and The Lost City) as the elderly cat lady Mama Luna, actor Anthony Mendez (Jane the Virgin and Foodtastic) as the Doctor, actor Bernardo De Paula (Carmen Sandiego and Jellystone) as the Governor, production coordinator / actor Kevin McCann (Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania and Hotel Transylvania 2) as the talking ethical cricket, and actresses Betsy Sodaro (Big City Greens and Ghosts) and Artemis Pebdani (Big City Greens and Scandal) as the two Serpent Sisters, are delegated to minor supporting character roles in the movie. Some have a few more scenes than others (some only have one or two sequences in The Last Wish), but the selected acting talent involved do their parts (respectfully) and make the most of their time in the feature, despite their limited roles.
Down to his last of his nine lives, the legendary and heroic swashbuckler feline Puss in Boots must find a way to reach the fabled Wishing Star (to wish for more lives) before his enemies get their first in the movie Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Director Joel Crawford latest film takes what was established in the 2011 film and propels the narrative forward, with plenty of merits to make this second spin-off cartoon endeavor worth telling and experiencing for both old and new fans of Shrek universe. While there a few elements that might good or bad on a viewer’s opinions (several darker elements) as well as a several too many characters in a few parts, the movie finds great experience within its narrative, with attention to detail from Crawford’s direction, a deep and meaningful themes / messages, great action sequences, hilarious comedy, an amazing visual animation / presentation, a great soundtrack, colorful characters, and terrific voice acting across the board. Personally, I really liked this movie. Yes, there were a few minor nitpicks that I had with the movie, but I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the feature. It was funny, had plenty of heart, a lot of flashy action scenes, and proved to be quite effective spin-off endeavor (i.e. able to stand on its own). My expectations were definitely exceeded and that’s a great thing. It’s probably the best movie of the Shrek franchise since Shrek 2 and definitely much better than the first Puss in Boots movie….at least in my opinion. Thus, my recommendation for the movie would a be quite a favorable “highly recommended”, especially to longtime fans of the series that are looking for something new in this fairy tale inspired cartoon universe. The ending of the film leaves the door open for a possible continuation adventure in the near future, which, considering how popular and well-received this movie has been by both critics and moviegoers, seems almost like a forgone conclusion….and I, for one, would welcome it. In the end, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an exciting and widely animated spin-off project to the Shrek main narrative, providing a dazzling adventure that has plenty of heart, humor, and spectacle from everyone’s favorite feline.
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: December 21st, 2022
Reviewed On: January 4th, 2023
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is 100 minutes long and rated PG for action/violence, rude humor/language, and some scary moments