The State of Animation: ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ is nearly purrfect

Jan. 18, 2023, 9:58 p.m.

Welcome to “The State of Animation,” a column about the wonderful world of cartoons. Animation isn’t just for kids; it’s a medium that allows for ample creativity and continues to grow in popularity. From groundbreaking animated movies to dark cartoon comedies, I’ll be showing you a bit of everything. I’m Kristofer Nino, a lifelong fan of animation here to help you find your next animated show to binge and to prove that cartoons are for everyone.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a legitimately incredible movie … I know that might sound ridiculous, but believe me, I’m just as shocked as you are.

I watched it on a whim this winter break, expecting a goofy but forgettable children’s movie. Sure, the animation did look enticing in trailers, but it was a sequel to a spin-off of a franchise I felt already deserved to rest. Yet, despite all expectations, I found myself watching what was a deeply-touching narrative about mortality and found family … starring a cat in fancy footwear. As dramatic as this might sound for “just another kid’s movie,” “The Last Wish” is a film that flaunts innovative animation and bold storytelling choices. Its triumph has made me genuinely hopeful for the future of Dreamworks films — and animation at large.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” follows titular Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), a legendary swashbuckling cat who must come to terms with his own mortality after losing eight out of his nine feline lives. Puss and his allies journey to find the Wishing Star to wish for his lives back, but must face twisted fairy tale foes like Goldilocks and a bounty hunter wolf. Although it’s a spin-off of the “Shrek” series, watching past media isn’t necessary to enjoy the film; it’s strong enough to stand alone, and I’d even consider it to be one of Dreamworks’s best works.

One of the first things that struck me was how distinct its animation style is from typical Dreamworks blockbusters. “The Last Wish” is incredibly stylistic, reminiscent of recent films like Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” or Netflix’s “Entergalactic.” However, instead of mimicking comics like those films do, Puss’s world echoes fairy tale paintings, employing visible brush strokes, fanciful color palettes and hand-drawn techniques to create stunning visuals.

Fight scenes are dynamic, playing with unexpected perspectives and slower frame rates. The scene where Puss battles a giant is wildly energetic, reminding me of anime or superhero media rather than any past Shrek movies.

Dreamworks has proven to the world that it can keep up with the changing tides of animation. Where other studios have tried reaching the impossible heights of realistic graphics — often landing in the uncanny valley instead — this film’s embrace of a stylistic presentation is a breath of fresh air. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t in high definition, but it blends stylistic elements with gorgeous rendering in a way that is picturesque and always pleasing to watch.

Beyond visuals, “The Last Wish” also succeeds in its surprisingly mature storytelling. Sure, it has its share of silly characters and cat jokes, but the film balances childish humor by giving its characters authentic emotional depth. Puss tries to be heroic but grapples with his mortality, expressing his struggle in realistic ways, running away from problems and even having a panic attack. It’s shockingly heart-wrenching, but it’s never heavy-handed or patronizing.

Such vulnerable scenes aren’t undercut by comedy; the audience is treated with dignity. This film knows there’s no need to dumb down such themes for a younger demographic, and becomes all the more heartfelt with that willingness to broach topics like mental health or death. The fact that “The Last Wish” can handle these life lessons while being entertaining for children and adults alike is remarkable.

Beyond the titular hero, it’s hard to pick a single standout from the cast as they all shine. Perrito might seem obnoxious at first but quickly becomes loveable, while Puss’s rival Kitty Softclaws has a rivalry/romance dynamic with Puss that is entertaining to watch. Even side characters like Goldilocks are given wonderful emotional arcs.

Meanwhile, the film’s main villain, the Wolf, is legitimately terrifying. His character design is large, imposing and he whistles a haunting melody whenever he enters the scene, giving both Puss and the audience a Pavlovian fear response to his arrival. I won’t spoil too much, but his motivations for hunting Puss make a lot of sense, and he is the perfect opposition to the hero, making him one of Dreamworks’s best-written villains in my opinion.

My only complaint for “The Last Wish” is that its classic quest plot is somewhat predictable. Yet, despite this, the animation and characters propel viewers through with much excitement. It’s a roller coaster of spectacle and heart that never drags on too long.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” was not a film I expected to like but nevertheless adored. Now, my only wish is that more movies choose to follow the bold, boot-wearing footsteps that Puss in Boots has left behind — experimenting with unique animation and daring to braid levity with maturity, instead of churning out another lifeless cash-grab.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Kristofer Nino is a writer for the Arts & Life section. contact arts 'at' stanforddaily.com

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