It’s been a while since we’ve had a “Shrek” movie, but the franchise has continued on through two “Puss in Boots” movies, the second of which came out late last year. With a shockingly good Rotten Tomatoes score (95 percent), I thought I’d check it out.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” takes place sometime after the “Shrek” movies, with there being several references to the titular Puss in Boots’ (Antonio Banderas) adventures in those films, including some cameos from “Shrek” characters. After years of selfish, bold adventuring, Puss is down to his last life, having used up his previous eight. Death (Wagner Moura), who goes after Puss under the guise of a bounty hunter, is after Puss’ last life, being fed up with the whole cats-have-nine-lives rule and the fact that Puss so carelessly threw away all of his previous lives.
Death is a foe Puss cannot defeat, and that scares him. A big part of his bravery also came from the fact that he had lives to expend, which is no longer the case. If he dies now, it’ll be forever.
He gives up the live of adventuring and becomes a housecat at Mama Luna’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) house, who is a crazy cat lady with way too many cats, whose running gag is that she’s constantly on the lookout for the health department. There he meets Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a dimwitted dog pretending to be a cat who has aspirations of being a therapy dog, who is optimistic literally to a fault. However, Puss’ retirement doesn’t long, as he is tracked down by the Three Bears Crime Family made up of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), Mama Bear (Oliva Coleman), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo), who are trying to hire him in order to obtain a wishing star that is the heart of the Dark Forest, which can grant any wish. Puss, of course, wants to use it for himself, to restore his lives.
However, the map to the star is in the possession of “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who is a maniacal and wealthy collector of magic items, who wants to use the star to make sure he has all the magic in the world, and nobody else does. He’s perhaps the best villain so far in the “Shrek” cinematic universe, as the film goes to various lengths to establish just how irredeemable he is and how he doesn’t value life, most notably through its version of Jiminy Cricket (Kevin McCann), who is horrified by how dark Horner’s soul is.
Puss and Perrito successfully steal the map, while running into Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), an old flame of Puss that still resents him for not being able to commit to her. A lot of time and effort is put into how Puss’ ego has hurt others and he has a few very well done moments of self reflection where he goes through character development.
Goldi and the bears start to get tiresome at first, but the film really does express well how they are a great example of a found family, or as Perrito puts it, Goldi won the “orphan lottery” by finding the bears. They become an unexpectedly good addition to the cast, representing villains that can be turned into allies contrasting with Horner’s irredeemability.
This is a gorgeous-looking animated film, full of vibrant colors, and it has legitimately good action enhanced by its animation. DreamWorks proves that it is still at the forefront of animation at a technical level in this film.
Banderas also serves as a great leading man. Like many other “Shrek” actors, he just melds into his role and this film fully displays his chops as a voice actor. In fact, most of the voice acting is very good in this film, standing far above the pitiful standard that’s been established in the likes of ‘Scoob!” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in which celebrity voice actors lazily play themselves.
But perhaps what this film does best is how it shifts effortlessly from well-written emotional drama to comedy to thrilling action scenes, with its comedy and drama being its strongest aspects. It’s been years since a film made me laugh this much, as this film pulls no punches. Most of its best jokes are admittingly adult in nature, but they’re done in a way that will go over kids’ heads, much like the original four “Shrek” films. Comedy has been severely lacking at the movies for a very long time — it was a welcome surprise to see a highlight so well the foundations of comedy and joke-making, something modern comedy writers elsewhere in the industry severely need to brush up on.
The film also has excellent pacing and its transitions are great. It has very little fat on it — every scene has a clear purpose in advancing the story, as it rarely gets distracted, which is a rarity for comedic animated films like this. Comedy is always woven into the natural flow of the film’s story, never serving as a sideshow to it.
This is one of my favorite films of 2022 and is a legitimate film of the year contender. It’s up there with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Shrek 2” as one of DreamWorks’ best. It deserves a rare perfect score.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” gets a 10/10