Recently I watched Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which in my top movies of 2022; I had in my honourable mentions of movies I was keen to watch but didn’t have time or funds to see before the deadline that I set to get that list out. I put off watching this film because while it looked amazing and seemed exciting enough, it seemed too good to be true, especially as I started to hear more praise from opinions I trusted.
Full disclosure, this is technically part of the Shrek verse, and this is the first film from that franchise I have watched since Shrek 2. I didn’t bother keeping up after that and never heard anything good about the subsequent sequels and spinoffs. Some people contend whether or not Shrek was ever good, but I, for one, maintain that Shrek has a simple but important message that holds up more than ever and that Shrek 2 upstages its predecessor in entertainment value and is one of the better love stories where the couple are already together that uphold the message of the previous film in a way that it didn’t feel like it was repeating itself. Props!
I won’t say that The Last Wish is better than Shrek 2, but entertainment-wise, I think it’s about a little better than Shrek. It is, however, the best stylistic entry in the franchise. And no, I don’t have to watch every entry to know this. Saying that, I don’t consider it to be Dreamworks’ most stylistic film. I still think the Kung Fu Panda franchise and even Rise of the Guardians are way ahead of this film. However, that could also be my bias as I immensely enjoyed Kung Fu Panda and Rise of the Guardians’ substance.
Don’t get me wrong; I went into this film without expectations and saw substance in The Last Wish. It’s about Puss in Boots grappling with his sense of mortality and building and repairing relationships. And there’s also a surprisingly touching side-story with an iteration of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Considering how much I had heard of Shrek’s cynicism getting out of control over the years, it was nice to see that challenged.
The film does very obviously borrow a lot of its structure from the first Shrek movie. Puss goes on a quest to get something he wants, his nine lives back, and starts in the unwanted company of a new ugly friend who wants so badly to be helpful before being joined by the headstrong love interest a little later during the retrieval of a map. This is not unlike Shrek going on a quest to get his swamp back all to himself with annoying talking Donkey before retrieving Fiona, who becomes his love interest.
Unlike Shrek, the Last Wish has two villains; luckily, the film ensures they bring stakes. Big Jack Horner is trying to get all of the world’s magic to himself so he can take over the world, and he is not very nice. He is inherently evil. But the villain that I think carried the film despite technically bringing lower stakes was Death, who is out to get Puss’ soul. He’s not a cat person, you see. Death appears much less in the film; in that sense, he’s a bit like Lord Faquad as he appears during similar plot beats. But Death is legitimately terrifying and dignified. His interactions with Puss are much more personal and sinister, making him more impactful. But at the same time, since he cannot be defeated, he can be reasoned with, giving his character a bit more texture. Hence, I say this film is better than Shrek, which had to rely on vignette foils. Details like these do go a long way.
Also, in Shrek some odd scenes before the climax, Shrek has a misunderstanding about Fiona. Fiona herself keeps a personal secret throughout the film, and Donkey finds out about it before Shrek learns the truth and advocates for the two to do communication. And Shrek and Fiona have a will they won’t they that starts when they meet for the first time in the film.
In The Last Wish, it’s actually Puss keeping a personal secret about himself from Kitty Softpaws because he doesn’t want to guilt her. And then Kitty has a misunderstanding about Puss causing a rift between them during the climax. However, this rift moment differs significantly from Shrek in a few ways that make this better. First, Kitty tells him off and more or less declares the end of her trust in him, and Puss doesn’t do any immature like marry Big Jack Horner or something. Instead, he almost immediately, though nervously, tells her the truth, and she listens and takes him seriously before they are interrupted. And when Perrito discovered the truth, this happened much earlier in the film, whereas in Shrek, these two things happened almost back to back. There was just a lot less character bullshit logic while also still making me care about the outcomes.
This is more of a personal preference, but I found it interesting that Puss and Kitty already have a prior romantic history where they almost got married. Usually, with these types of relationships, I just want the characters to move on from each other already for their own sakes. But I like the fact that Kitty and Puss are storied characters who are developed people but just haven’t gotten the relationship thing figured out with anyone romantically or platonically. And the film kind of made me root for them. Though the film doesn’t commit to them being together, I didn’t think they were ready for that either. I guess we’ll have to wait for a sequel.
Also, while it was painfully obvious how similar Perrito and Puss’ dynamic was to Shrek and Donkey, I found Puss and Perrito much less mean-spirited. It starts a bit disrespectful of Perrito, but both Puss and Kitty warm up sooner to the ugly therapy dog and increasingly appreciate him throughout their journey.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a good quality film in writing and style and contains the franchise’s best action, which sold me on watching it. It’s simple, and I like the film’s message: make the most of your life with people you love, which I think was sophisticated for a family movie. And if there is a continuation for these characters, I will probably be a bit keener to check it out.