Movie Review: The glorious animation in the newest “Shrek” installment “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is enough to drive you to the theater by itself. Led by a star-studded cast and a script with enough heart, “The Last Wish” is one of the better animated movies of 2022.
I can’t say I expected to sit here at the beginning of 2023 and conjure up a lengthy review about a talking cat, but sometimes that is just how the universe works out. When “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” showed a hefty amount of financial success – and the critical reception showed an equally positive outcome, I figured I’d give the ginger savior a chance. After all, I grew up watching the first two “Shrek” films and found myself having some resemblance of an emotional attachment to them in my elementary and middle school days.
But that doesn’t mean that my expectations for “The Last Wish” were through the roof. Trailers showed a glimpse at the unique animated style this DreamWorks movie was going for and I was interested to see the feature length version of what they were hoping to accomplish. In a busy month like December, there’s a chance I miss a movie like “Puss in Boots,” but in a slower one like January, there’s worse ways to spend a slow afternoon at the theater.
The animation in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is undeniable. The immediate comparison many viewers will draw is that it does feel a touch like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” – and while it doesn’t strive to look like a comic book the same way that Spidey tale was told, I can see the resemblance. The frame rate drops in a really unique way when characters are being thrust into battle, and it feels cute and clean without the goopy look that many Disney and Pixar animated films have had in recent years.
In fact, it’s so good that I’m curious to see where DreamWorks Animation goes from here. Without spoiling too many details of the closing moments (a scene that is unattached from the main storyline and easily could’ve appeared in a post credit scene), it seems we’re getting another “Shrek” sequel set in the land of fairy tales and myths. I simply can’t imagine how DreamWorks is going to manage to either re-render Shrek and co. into this animated style or reverse course and put Puss in Boots and the gang back into their original look.
My showing was rather light on audience members, but there was a family with three kids seated a few rows in front of me. After the showing while I was preparing to head for the doors, I overheard a couple of them discussing how much they loved the animation style and how it was so different from what they normally see on TV. Let me just say, if elementary kids are taking note of an animation style and how daring it is compared to what is normally offered today, that’s a victory for the studio.
This is another reason why I can see the comparisons between “The Last Wish” and “Into the Spider-Verse” – maybe not in terms of overall quality or content, but in terms of originality. “The Last Wish” has a similar spark to what made “Shrek” feel new and hip all the way back in 2001. There’s a wistful and organic nature to how each story is told, almost completely removed from conventional storytelling for the medium they’re working in.
The voice acting is exceptional across the board, from Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, to Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, to Harvey Guillen as Perrito. Florence Pugh voices the folk tale legend Goldilocks and gives perhaps the best supporting voice-acting of the film. That’s particularly notable given the stellar supporting roles in “The Last Wish,” including Olivia Coleman and John Mulaney.
The story may not be nearly as tight around the edges as I would’ve preferred, but the few criticisms I have about it are easily put to the backburner when the jokes are flying left and right and the fight scenes are beautifully animated. At times, “The Last Wish” can feel crammed with almost too much of what makes it fun. Director Joel Crawford (“The Croods: A New Age”) is working with so much material that it can make for a disjointed watch in the middle.
I also pondered during the closing credits whether “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” could’ve originally been a standalone Goldilocks tale in the beginning. There’s a scenario easy to imagine where studio heads recommended adding Puss in Boots as IP to bring more viewers in due to his character’s ties to a larger franchise. This movie has long stretches where it devotes time to B-plots and it just made me wonder whether that was initially in this film’s cards.
But like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to turn your brain off and ignore these small storytelling issues when there’s quite a bit else that elevates “The Last Wish” beyond the traditional children’s movie. I was initially hesitant to even check it out, but after rave reviews and a load of financial success, I had to see what the fuss was about. I’m happy to report back that it’s well worth the price of admission for the fun it administers along the way.