This article is part four of . . .
The Front Page: Oscars Week
Last up on Oscars Week, as far as reviews go, is DreamWorks’s newest animated feature to hit theaters: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Be sure to stick around to Friday when Joshua Monen ends the Oscars Week with a bang with his editorial on redemption!
PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH
If you follow social media closely, you most likely have heard this movie come up more than a few times, with heaps of praise towards it from just about every corner of the internet, but especially in the film and animation corners. Some scenes have even been memed to death. This film has also become incredibly successful at the box office, especially after the film became popular on social media. Let me begin by saying this: this movie deserves every load of praise and every dollar thrown its way.
DreamWorks’s latest outing is a sequel to a spinoff of the Shrek franchise. It is, therefore, very easy to dismiss the film as simply another sequel put out by the Hollywood machine. This is anything but, however. It actually far surpasses its predecessor. I would even go as far as to say that this film reaches levels of greatness that are hardly seen in the filmmaking world, especially as a sequel.
Puss in Boots, the arrogant, adventure-seeking and Spanish-speaking cat, is down to the last of his nine lives after another one of his adventures. Seeking to regain his past lives and thereby avoid death, Puss sets off on a quest to find the Last Wish, which grants its owner one wish. He is not the only one trying to find it; however, “Big” Jack Horner and Goldilocks and The Three Bears seek this Last Wish as well, each for their own reasons.
The animation is truly an achievement to behold: the first thing the viewer will notice is how different it is with its bright, pastel-like colors and the occasional smearing of colors and other details to make it more resemble a children’s book. It is still computer-animated, so audiences that are much more used to computer animated films would feel right at home with this. The second thing audiences will notice is how the film, at points, resembles the equally amazing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with its hyper-stylized fight scenes, and frame drops. These scenes even use action lines and have some influences from anime as well.
Overall, the animation is a total treat, but that’s certainly not the only thing the film offers. It, like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, offers spectacular voice performances from everyone on board. Salma Hayek voices Kitty Softpaws, who returns from the first Puss in Boots, and Antonio Banderas returns to voice the titular Puss in Boots. Both actors add a sense of vulnerability to both their characters through their age that enhances the film’s themes dramatically. With Puss in Boots having to face death through his journey, him sounding older and a bit weaker only serves to make his inevitable battle with death that much more profound and believable.
Speaking of characters, this film boasts quite a number of new characters. Perrito, a therapy dog, joins Puss and Kitty as a sidekick on their quest to find the Last Wish. Goldilocks and the Three Bears Crime Family are seeking the Last Wish as well: Goldilocks is after it to find her real family, having been adopted by the Bears. Finally, “Big” Jack Horner, a pie maker and collector of magic items, is after the Last Wish to gain all of the magic in the world and keep it for himself.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears are the film’s sympathetic antagonists: they honestly can hardly be called villains, though they definitely seem like it at first! Florence Pugh’s voice certainly can sound both good and evil at the same time. However, Jack Horner, played by John Mulaney, represents something that has been rare in recent animated films: an irredeemable, unabashedly evil villain. This kind of rare character is something to delight in, especially when compared to, say, the antagonist that is generational trauma that has plagued the Disney films as of late.
We are not discussing the elephant in the room, however: the most praised character (and maybe even aspect) of the entire film. It is not Puss in Boots, but rather a mysterious, hooded and gray-furred wolf that has captured the attention of just about everyone who has seen the film. This wolf stalks Puss in Boots throughout the entire film, and with the wolf comes one of the creepiest sounds possibly in any movie this year. His whistle, which accompanies his arrival to Puss in Boots, permeates the theater speakers (or a surround sound system): you are made very aware of his presence every single time he whistles, and it is a long one, one that is rhythmic enough to stick in your head. It practically makes your hair stand on end.
If the whistle were not enough, Wagner Moura delivers a similarly creepy voice performance that straight up fits the character. He adds hints of sadism into his deep and almost nasally voice that, through the wolf’s tall figure, red eyes and the two sickles he carries, immediately signals to the audience he is a force to be reckoned with, and remembered. His sudden appearances throughout the film keeps the audience on its toes and elevates the story to a whole other level.
Equally good as the Wolf, and just as memorable, is the sidekick of Kitty and Puss in Boots, a little therapy dog named Perrito (whose name in Spanish means “puppy”). Side characters meant largely to be comic relief are very easy to drop the ball on: usually, but especially in children’s films, they come off as incredibly annoying. The Last Wish manages to walk the fine line of the character having great purpose and being funny without coming across as annoying at all, and this is partially due to the great voice lended to him by Harvey Guillén, with the other part being the wonderful writing that gives several of the best lines of dialogue to Perrito.
As far as themes go, there’s tons of them, and I am happy to say that they’re not nearly as obnoxious as those in the other films I have reviewed this week.
The film deals with the prospect of death and not living up to your ideal self, the central themes of the film, extremely well. The arcs of Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws and others are presented in such a way that it ropes the viewers along with it for the (frequently emotional) ride. This is especially prevalent in Puss’s arc, which establishes him as this living, fearless and self-centered legend who will never die before being reduced to a scaredy-cat who runs away from his newfound fear of death, and who seeks a quick solution to his problems with the titular Last Wish.
Perhaps the most well-composed aspect of this arc is through how the film portrays Puss’s anxiety: it frequently shows him in close-up or zooms in slowly to do this. The screen also blurs to represent the singular focus on what is causing him fear, which accurately represents what it is like to be thrust into the throes of anxiety from my personal experiences. He even sees things that look very similar to what he is afraid of, something I have also experienced. He even panics at one key point, and how the film handles defusing that situation shows a kind of care that films rarely care to consider when a character is dealing with anxiety.
Of course, this is sounding quite dark for a movie, especially one that is rated PG, but there is quite a lot of humor that both lightens everything up and makes everything come full circle. It goes through just about every human emotion there is. The humor is also the classic Dreamworks kind of it, like that seen in the earlier bits of the Shrek franchise: edgy, bordering on vulgar and yet still having heart. Both children and adults will enjoy the humor the film has to offer, especially Jack Horner’s evil side and Perrito’s obliviousness and even the one time Perrito gleefully and comedically snaps.
But what film is not complete without a song? This film has that to offer, plus a great, emotional score on top of it. The song “Fearless Hero” features quite early in the film, but is extremely delightful to both listen to and see unfold on the screen. The film syncs up with the music, which also adds to the effect it has for the film. Antonio Banderas’s vocals truly make the frivolous feline live up to his name, and it is one that I have obsessively listened to on Spotify ever since I saw the film in theaters a month ago. It is simply that good. In my opinion, it got snubbed for an Oscar nomination.
Hell, I think this got a lot of snubs for Oscars, which is of course due to the Academy not believing animated films are up to par with live-action ones. I believe at least Wagner Moura should’ve snagged a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and the cinematography, score and editing are on point and should have gotten nominated there too. I also think the writing should’ve got a nomination simply due to the fact how well it controls pathos and comedy throughout the entire runtime.
Screw it! At that point, just give it all the Oscars!
Unfortunately, as perfect as this film may sound, I have some issues with it, though they’re pretty minor. One of the long running gags involving Goldilocks is not that funny: it is actually decently annoying (though it does work at times). I feel they overemphasize the punchline of the joke each time it comes up. Occasionally, the film over-dramatizes, though not by much, some of its punches. In particular, one moment where the wolf points to a Wanted poster as the camera tilts and a deep, bassy sound plays feels a bit overdone.
Other than those extremely minor complaints, I would have to recommend this film to just about everyone. All of the praise this film gets is well-deserved. Every single aspect of this film is done near-perfectly: it is done so well in fact that you could easily ignore the very rare flaws it has. It even has little details that you only notice on repeat viewings, but which makes the film so much more endearing.
Seeing the original Puss in Boots is not necessary to watch this film, let alone enjoy it. I would almost even say you don’t need to have seen any of the Shrek films to see this either. It sets everything about Puss’s character up perfectly, which is pretty much the only thing carried over from the other films in the Shrek franchise.
This is a film that needs to be seen (in a theater if possible), especially as animated films receive so little attention and a bad rap here in America. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a film that makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you fear for your life, and yet also makes you cheer. I would have to give this film a 9.5 out of 10 as my final rating.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish stars Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, Wagner Moura, Florence Pugh and John Mulaney. This film is rated PG. The Last Wish is currently available on home media and will be available for streaming on Peacock starting March 10th. It is also still playing in movie theaters.
This film is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
This article is part four of . . .