2022 was a good year for animated films. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio spun the classic tale in mature and sophisticated directions. Turning Red took a lighthearted and hopeful view on real issues. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was quite possibly the cutest thing ever made. However, there was one animated movie, a beautiful movie, a masterful movie, a movie that trumps all others: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’s story follows familiar beats: the eponymous outlaw has wasted eight of his nine lives, and Death is out to get him. Puss, alongside therapy dog Perrito and his ex-lover named Kitty, searches for the Last Wish, a magical object that – as the name implies – can grant the user one wish. Can Puss wish for his lives back? Will Goldilocks and her three bears catch him? Will the sinister pie mogul Jack Horner get the wish first? Can Puss outrun Death? Yeah, you read that right.
In the film, Death is a wolf. A big, bad wolf voiced by Brazilian film legend Wagner Moura. Death is, without being too dramatic, one of the best animated villains ever. His tall, lean figure shrouded in a black cloak. His entrance, creeping up on Puss and easily defeating him in battle. It’s grim for a children’s movie, but the constant presence of Death is a major theme of the film, and anytime you hear his telltale whistle and see a dark shadow on the horizon, you know something’s about to go down. People constantly claim Pennywise from It or Jack from The Shining are the scariest villains of all time. In my opinion, it’s an animated wolf who’s main adversary is a cat named Puss in Boots.
Speaking of Puss in Boots, he opens the movie with boundless energy, launching into song just a few minutes in and defeating an evil giant in one-on-one combat. That energy has a near-constant presence throughout the rest of the film. The rapid pacing propels it forwards, even though it begins to lose steam around the halfway point. Puss is a charming hero voiced well by Antonio Banderas, equal parts daring, rogue, and arrogant idiot. The film isn’t afraid to make fun of its protagonist, something missing from many kids’ movies.
The aforementioned mocking occurs almost constantly. Puss is like an overinflated balloon full of ego, and other characters regularly pop the balloon, providing a grounded sense that helps in moments of extreme absurdity. The comedy of the film is sharp, with plenty of clever jokes and sequences. When watching it, I wished for more of the more subtle gags and fewer jokes about cats, toilets, and dogs, with an overemphasis on how many cat and toilet jokes occurred. That being said, it is a kids movie, so I’d consider it a success at appealing to all ages.
The animation is solid, drawing (pun intended) from Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. My only complaint is that it doesn’t fully commit to that comic book-esque style, instead finding an occasionally awkward niche between comic art and typical animated movie design. The characters, except for the obvious standout of Death, fall into the latter category, drawn in a predictable fashion that doesn’t align with the uniqueness and spirit of the rest of the movie.
As far as supporting characters, the film has a solid ensemble. Harvey Guillen gives it his all as Perrito, and Florence Pugh lends sympathy to her villainous Goldilocks. She’s supported by the three bears, played by Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo, who all do a fine job. John Mulaney also nails the cartoonish evil of Jack Horner. The only disappointment is Salma Hayek, who seems to be giving it about 70%. However, when together with Banderas, she thrives as a result of their excellent chemistry.
The only major flaw of The Last Wish is its second half. The characters enter a mysterious fantastical world full of dangerous obstacles that block the way to the Last Wish, and the trite setting takes away from the fun of the movie. This continues through the rest of the movie, as the protagonists navigate a predictable set of challenges, eventually making their way to the Last Wish. Thankfully, the final fight reclaims some of the earlier energy, as Goldilocks and the bears turn good; Jack Horner is finally defeated in deliciously meta fashion; and Death makes his last appearance dueling with Puss before departing, content to let Puss live a little while longer. The last shot of the film also teases excitement: Puss, Kitty, and Perrito sail towards The Kingdom of Far Far Away, where the earlier Shrek movies took place…so if you’re into that kind of thing, good for you.
It really shouldn’t be this good. It’s Puss in Boots. Come on. Yet despite everything, it’s one of the best studio children’s movies in years, filled to the brim with chaotic energy, sharp animation, and clever humor. The characters are varied and fun, and Death is an instantly memorable character. No one knows for sure where Puss in Boots will go next, but I for one, will be delighted to go on that adventure with him.