Running From the Man
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
There is absolutely no denying that the ShrekThe tale of an ogre that just wants to be left alone but, instead, becomes the prince to a princess and the hero of a land, all while remaining an ogre through and through. series is an absolute force in animation. Across four main movies, and now two spin-off films, the series raked in just shy of $4 Bil at the Box Office, and that doesn't even count home media sales, digital rentals, toys, and other merchandise. The franchise that was designed original to act as a kind of "Anti-Disney" has, in its own way, become bigger than many Disney franchises. It is the animation series that put Dreamworks on the map.
Although at the time I didn't think a Puss in Boots movie was needed, skipping seeing it in theaters, I will admit that when I finally got around to watching it the film did win me over. Playing as a parody of the Zorro and Desperado films that Antonio Banderas starred in, Puss in Boots was a big swinging, rowdy, comedic adventure that actually justified its own existence. For the fifth film in an animated kids series, that's actually pretty special. Oddly, despite that film making plenty of money (over half a Billion in receipts), a sequel wasn't immediately forthcoming.
Eleven years later, though, Dreamworks did finally crank out another Puss in Boots. Titled The Last Wish, this film picks up long after Shrek Forever After, finding a Puss at the end of his long run of lives (because cats have nine, of course), suddenly looking at the end of the road and feeling afraid of what comes next. It's an odd, different film from the first movie (and not just because it has a different animation style from the rest of the Shrek series), but it is enjoyable, in its own way. At least once, anyway.
While defending the town of Del Mar from a local giant (which was only awoken because Puss decided to have one loud rager of a party), Puss (Banderas once more) accidentally gets himself killed, using up the eighth of his lives. For a cat that "laughs in the face of Death", this suddenly puts Puss right in the line of sight of Death (Wagner Moura). When the dark wolf himself comes to collect, Puss goes on the run, hiding out at a cat sanctuary. There, the crazy cat lady who owns the place gives him the name of Pickles and treats him just like every other cat. Cats don't talk, cat's don't cook for themselves, cats don't use the human toilet. Puss finds himself living like a normal cat for once, a literal hell for him (in a way), but he eventually succumbs and goes on in life as just a cat.
Adventure, though, comes calling. When Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) ad her family of three bears -- Olivia Colman as Mama Bear, Ray Winstone as Papa Bear, and Samson Kayo -- come looking for Puss, he goes on the run once more, taking back up his identity so he can fend off these fiends. With the help of his new doggy pal, Perrito (Harvey Guillen), Puss assumes he has to fight these fiends before they claim him and take the reward on his head. Except they don't want him for his head, they want to hire him. It seems that Jack Horner (John Mulaney), the rich and powerful pastry chef, is looking to get his hands on a map that would lead to a falling star. Whoever has hat map can find the star and make a wish, granting them anything they want. Puss realizes he can use the star to get his lives back, thus fending off Death. But not only is Goldi and her bears after the map, and Horner as well, but also Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), Puss's former lover. Alliances will be made, magic will be stolen, and another grand adventure will be had by Puss in Boots.
As with the previous Shrek films, and Puss in Boots as well, this sequel is a mish-mash on fairy tale and nursery rhyme ideas. Normally Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Jack Horner, Jimminy Cricket, and more wouldn't all be in the same story. They don't share common themes, common elements, or much all in common at all. And yet the film does mash them together, and arguably in a slightly better way than the previous Puss in Boots. At least here each character is given their own motivation and they add themselves to the story in a more organic way.
The scene stealing stars of the show are, frankly, Goldi and the bears. They're performed with British accents (the ruffian kind, almost Cockney in a way) and act as their own enforcers. They bash, they steal, they fight, and they basically act like they were grabbed out of a Guy Ritchie film and thrown in here. As weird as that is for Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it frankly really works here. They do feel like they came from a different film, but it's a funny film, for sure.
Jack Horner is less impressive, sadly. He's the villain of the film, and he is villainous, for sure. But his motivation for being in the story is lacking. Little Jack Horner just loves pie, and the film takes that one little idea and turns him into a rich and powerful pie magnate that wans all the magic ever because, well, greed. I think there's supposed to be a metaphor about corporate greed and the rich always wanting to get richer, but that thread is lost in on a villain he never really gets any depth. He needed more development to really stick his landing, and Horner simply isn't given that kind of time.
Puss and Kitty fare better, but some of the magic between them is lost. The film purposefully has them separated when this film starts, all so it can go through the motions of having them join together again. Their story doesn't move forward at all, just getting them right back where they were at the end of the last movie. I would have liked better character progression for them instead of having them tread water, so to speak. And because the film forces them to go through the same motions a second time, the humor and originality is lost as well. It's still great to have Banderas and Hayek Pinault working together, I just wish this film could find that spark that the first film managed.
I think that's one major issue with this movie, really: it's a story searching for its own motivation. Puss having nine lives is a story idea only now brought up in this movie and not any of the previous ones before. It's a ret-con, in effect, one we just have to accept now so the film can get going. It's the thing where, if Puss had burned off a couple of his lives in the previous films, then suddenly it would feel dire to the audience. We'd realize, "wow, Puss really has burned through all of these lives on his adventures helping others." We'd care if he got more lives or not.
But the way the film burns off his lives is silly. He lost them just doing dumb shit, in a montage. It's a funny montage, for sure, and it works in context, but that still sucks some of the drama from this story idea. It's a problem raised only in this film all so Puss can solve it, in this film. As with the relationship with Kitty, in essence, Puss goes right back to where he was at the start of this film because whether he has one life or nine, it's all the same to the audience. It doesn't change the character in any fundamental way, not really.
The story is a little lacking in places, then, but the art style for the film does help ease that some. Dreamworks really stepped it up a notch for this film, giving the 3D animation an odd, painterly style. Although my wife didn't dig it, I thought the new animation style was really great, artistic in a way the previous films in this series lacked. It showed real growth for the animation studio, and I would absolutely watch more films done up in this style, for sure.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that, at a fundamental level, this is a sequel that didn't really need to happen. Every character in it essentially ends up right back where they were before the adventure happens, and they only marginally learn anything about themselves in the process. It's nice to have Puss back, he's a fun character, and maybe this will lead to grander adventures for him, Kitty, and the Goldilocks gang in the future. It does make Puss in Boots: The Last Wish a lesser effort, though. An inessential, if still fun, sequel to a film that was so much more.