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Why waste your youth on worry?
Why brood on doubt and death?
When in your prime,
You have the time
To not count every breath.

It’s normal to be stupid,
Or so the stupid say.
The less you heed,
The less you need
To care about each day.

But age, regret, or wisdom
Eventually take hold
To some degree.
Dies out before it’s old.

It’s up to each what value
Upon their life is placed.
But when the fun
And games are done,
Don’t let it be a waste.

MPA rating: PG

I would not have expected one of my favorite films from last year to be a sequel separated from its franchise by eleven years, from a studio I thought I had stopped caring about. In 2022, DreamWorks Animation delivered two of their strongest films in recent years, first with The Bad Guys and then with the long-neglected sequel Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Both clearly took inspiration from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in their dynamic, painterly animation style merging 2D and 3D, but Puss in Boots also managed to integrate it with the existing style of Shrek, to masterly effect. You may have heard others singing this film’s praises in recent months, and yep, I’m one of them.

The first Puss in Boots film was a fun standalone adventure, a spin-off of the Shrek universe focusing on Antonio Banderas’ fan-favorite character Puss in Boots, the dashing outlaw/legend of the fairy tale world. Whereas that was an origin story, The Last Wish focuses on the latter days of Puss’s illustrious career, after he’s frittered away eight of his nine lives and has grown complacent laughing in the face of death. When a mysterious wolf proves to be too much for him, the feline swordsman feels he has no choice but to retire. Yet the promise of a wish sends him rushing to find a fallen star, alongside his old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), an incessantly friendly dog (Harvey Guillén), and a collection of more cutthroat wish-seekers.

Puss in Boots can seem like the kind of character better suited for a sidekick role, his self-aggrandizing personality most appealing in small doses. Yet The Last Wish uses that to its advantage in making the preservation of that façade Puss’s driving goal while simultaneously poking holes in it through the other characters. Kitty is the only returning character from the prior film, and she represents what Puss has given up for the sake of his ego. And Guillén’s nameless mutt, nicknamed Perrito, is the kind of character that promises to be annoying yet is infectiously nice enough to win anyone over, even his begrudging feline comrades who aren’t used to unbridled sincerity.

The villains are a special highlight, an entertaining mix of characters and motivations, from Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney) as the straight evil mastermind to Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) as a Cockney crime family with more sympathetic edges. And then there’s the Wolf (Wagner Moura), one of the best animated antagonists in recent memory, who has such an effectively chilling presence that it’s no wonder the ever fearless Puss in Boots quakes at his stark whistle. All these characters clashing periodically on the way to a shared goal may seem overly frenetic at times, but their distinct motives and the way they bounce off each other make for a highly enjoyable quest, kept unpredictable by genius creative touches like a map that changes the terrain depending on who holds it open.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a triumphant return for the long-dormant Shrek universe. It excels in that rare balance of light entertainment for kids and subtler serious themes for adults, such as the looming specter of mortality or the easily missed value of a found family. Banderas steps into the role with panache, like he never left it; Mulaney sounds like he’s having a blast hamming it up as a power-hungry villain; and Guillén brings a perfect adorability to Perrito, who is the true heart of the film. And the beautifully rendered action is top notch, using the Spider-Verse similarities to its own stylistic advantage rather than just being a copycat.

I distinctly remember watching Shrek 2 as a kid because my mom surprised me with a visit to the movies after school, and it just happened to be a great one. Somehow, I got the feeling that some kid today is going to look back on Puss in Boots: The Last Wish with the same fondness. As much as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio deserved its accolades, I really wish that it hadn’t overshadowed DreamWorks’ best film in years. But, as this movie testifies, there are more important things than wishes anyway.

Best line (showing great comedic interactions):
(Goldilocks) “I thought you were on a spiritual retreat.”
(Kitty Softpaws) “Namaste.”
(Goldilocks) “And you’re supposed to be dead!”
(Puss) “I got better.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2023 S.G. Liput
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