Written by Alexandra Wisner
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” may have spent 11 years in development purgatory (purgatorio?), but it’s easily one of the best DreamWorks Animation movies in years — maybe even one of their best movies, full stop. It’s bright, dynamic and light-hearted, while also managing to balance heavy themes about mortality, loss and love. Warning: Spoilers ahead. Puss in Boots (Antonia Banderas) sings two musical numbers, and he is also haunted by a specter of death and his own powerlessness against it. He left Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) at the altar, leaving her unable to let her guard down or let anyone in. His best friend, a bug-eyed Chihuahua (Harvey Guillén) who doesn’t realize his own family tried to drown him, calms Puss down from an on-screen panic attack. A lot for a kids’ cartoon, no? But “The Last Wish” makes it work, and watering it down to a children’s movie is a disservice to the medium of animation. Like “Shrek,” “The Last Wish” is funny, unashamed and, at times, irreverent; it’s a proud addition to the franchise.
After learning that he is on his last life, Puss in Boots goes to a tavern to drink his sorrows away. There, he is confronted by the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) posing as a bounty hunter. The two fight, and the Wolf disarms him and corners Puss in the bathroom. Puss flushes himself down the toilet and flees, eventually retiring to a quiet life at Mama Luna’s Cat Rescue. He buries the boots, is renamed Pickles and lets the legend die. When the Three Bears Crime Family breaks into the rescue to find him and he learns they want him for a heist job, however, his passion is relit. With the bug-eyed Chihuahua, disguised as a cat because no one wants him, Puss digs up his early grave and pulls his boots back on — along with the heavy burden of the legacy they carry.
Here’s where the real meat of the movie comes in and, spoiler, it’s a heist. And like any good heist, there are competing teams. Team Friendship (named by the unwanted Chihuahua) is Puss, Kitty Softpaws and Perrito (the Chihuahua’s new name). Team Three Bears is Mama, Papa, Baby Bear (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone and Samson Kayo) and Goldilocks (Florence Pugh; did I mention it’s a stacked cast?). And Team Villain is Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney; I mean, come on), Jiminy Cricket and a bunch of unnamed bakers who are used as cannon fodder so Jack can reach his goal. They follow the twisting turns of the Dark Forest to find the magical wishing star, each desperate to have the star’s wish for themselves. And all along the way, Puss is haunted by Big Bad Wolf — Death — and Death’s own vengeful quest to punish Puss’ careless and selfish waste of his former lives.
The themes of “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” can be split into three questions: What is family? What are friends? And what makes a life worth living? Answering them is a tall order for any movie, but “The Last Wish” delivers on all fronts. Puss grapples with his legacy and fear in the face of his last life; Kitty Softpaws searches for someone — anyone — she can trust; Perrito delivers many of the film’s most heartfelt moments and finds true friendship. The Three Bears envision a life filled to the brim with their family and love; Goldilocks is desperate to finally be rid of the dirty, hungry orphan she’s always seen herself as. Jack Horner is heartless and irredeemable, and his apathy and disregard for life lighten up the heavier character beats.
The movie’s tight pace bounces between quick humor to heartwarming dialogue to anime-esque action scenes. It takes perfect advantage of its medium with story-book stylization, richly textured characters and packed color. If you can’t tell, I love this movie. It is uproariously delightful, and I am so excited to see what DreamWorks will do next.