In 2005, a star took over a young franchise on the come-up. While 2001’s Shrek won the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar, the arrival of Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas, became a watershed moment for Dreamworks. Rather than rest on the laurels of the first film, their new character stole Shrek 2 from its established stars. He added his own brand of humor, the beautiful singing of Banderas, and new storytelling possibilities. It was no surprise when Dreamworks spun him off into his own starring film in 2011. Despite the success, it took more than a decade for Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to arrive in theaters. However, the long break helped The Last Wish establish itself as one of Dreamworks’ best films.
After an accident, Puss (Banderas) discovers he is on the last of his nine lives. Puss goes into hiding, where he meets a strange dog named Perro (Harvey Guillén). When Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) & the three bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) recruit Puss to steal a map leading to a wishing star, Puss takes matters into his own paws. After stealing the map from Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), Puss partners up with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Perro. The three race to the wishing star, with Horner, the Goldilocks, and a mysterious wolf on their tail (Wagner Moura).
The most important change for Puss in Boots: The Last Wish comes in a new animation style. Directors Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado dropped the traditional bubbly CG animation Dreamworks had become famous for. Instead, they lean into animation reminiscent of hand-drawn textures while also playing with the frame speed. Giving the CG animation the appearance that it’s being animated on the 2s (like traditional anime), the action sequences are far more coherent.
Crawford and Mercado infuse these new visuals with blasts of color and absurd storytelling. The pacing of The Last Wish quickly pushes audiences into the visual language of action films. There’s barely a moment of fat in the film, with many of the “slower scenes” chewing through background and exposition to set up emotional payoffs. Nearly every aspect introduced throughout the film is paid off by the end. The tight script, combined with the new visuals, allows Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to take flight.
The voice cast provides stellar work as well. Banderas and Hayek bring back their witty banter, which is as perfect as ever. Guillén provides much-needed comedic highlights, bringing the raw energy and naive nature of a dog to life. Pugh, Winstone, Colman, and Kayo steal long stretches of the film, imbued with cockney accents and witty banter. Moura instantly becomes the most frightening in a Shrek franchise film and earns a place in Dreamworks’ hall of fame. If there’s a complaint about this voice cast, it might be that Moura is too scary for children.
The new animation will bring in many new audiences, but not for everyone. Admittedly, it takes a minute or two to adjust to the Spider-Verse style, which will benefit younger animation fans but may disorient more seasoned viewers. Combining multiple art styles will help Dreamworks under Universal regain its status as a powerhouse animation studio.
One can already see this in action based on the themes of The Last Wish, most notably those about mortality. The animated feature has plenty of key moments that will make the kids laugh, and Puss’ journey will help deepen their emotional attachment. For parents, it may take on a more personal feeling, and as such will keep their attention far more than other Dreamworks films have in recent years. This, along with Trolls World Tour seem to indicate a pipeline of more complex stories for legacy characters. It bodes extremely well for the studio that has begun facing competition from LAIKA, Cartoon Saloon, and Netflix.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish never needed to be so creative or funny to capture audiences. However, The Last Wish stands a legitimate shot to be among Dreamworks’ very best films. Brilliant and bold animation helps propel extenuate the pace of the caper adventure. The surprisingly great cast also performs the heck out of their dialogue. While the story will be predictable to many audience members, there’s enough here to celebrate the return of our favorite feline hero. Perhaps it bodes well for future entries from Far Far Away.