Movie Review: “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”


Jonathan Shlesinger, A&E Assistant Editor

In his first film review, Senior Staff Writer Jonathan Shlesinger talks about the surprisingly mature character arcs and themes that “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” demonstrates: that life is meant to be enjoyed and experienced with those you love.

Before I begin, I have to be honest about the fact that I am not a critical watcher of movies. Like many, I find cinema as purely a means of escapism. I don’t spend my time picking apart camera shots or the director’s choices despite the fact that they would enhance my experience or strengthen my takeaways. Likewise, part of the appeal in deciding to see “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” was that it seemed to be a vessel of pure escapism. I wouldn’t feel guilty for not absorbing any subliminal messages because children’s movies usually do the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining their overarching ideas. “Puss in Boots” took on this burden graciously, creating a captivating storyline, loveable characters, and beautiful themes all buoyed by stunning animation. My friend and I both walked into the theater expecting nothing but a fun little kid’s movie, but we walked out surprised by how touched we felt. 

Everyone is familiar with the beloved Puss in Boots — as he boasts himself within the opening sequence — he’s a legend larger than life. The scrappy orange feline voiced by Antonio Banderas was introduced in “Shrek 2.” He was given both a spin-off movie and a television show that kept the character on the public radar and solidified him on the roster of notable DreamWorks characters. Over 10 years after his first solo film, “The Last Wish” arrived as a sequel. However, as someone who went into the movie without any real prior knowledge of the character, I can attest to the fact that the first movie is not necessary for following the sequel. 

The plot centers around Puss realizing he is down to the last of his nine lives, and while he initially dismisses this, he is confronted with one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen in a children’s movie: Death (Wagner Moura) personified as a wolf. Their interaction scares Puss into hiding where he undergoes an identity crisis in the security of a crazy cat lady’s home. It’s here that a secondary group of villains, Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears, destroy the house Puss is hiding in to search for him. The bandits want to hire him to steal a map of the Wishing Star, a magical item said to grant the user a wish of their choosing. Puss is reinvigorated by this knowledge because he sees an opportunity to wish for his nine lives back. In attempting to steal this map from the movie’s third villain Jack Horner (John Mulaney), he runs into an old accomplice and love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and adopts an unnamed canine companion (Harvey Guillen). Map in hand and three separate villains in hot pursuit, Puss, Softpaws, and their new nameless dog accomplice set out in search of the wishing star. 

The protagonists are wonderfully likable. Kitty Softpaws creates a facade  of independence and toughness, but she truly craves to let her guard down and be vulnerable with someone. Perrito, the nickname Puss has given to his once-nameless friend, is the opposite of Softpaws. He is incredibly vulnerable and sees the good in everyone around him even when doing so harms him. He comes across as rather dense when describing past-maltreatment as fun and games, but shaping the world into pure good is arguably harder than succumbing to cynicism; there is admiration to be found in his naivety. Puss is initially reluctant to be accompanied by Softpaws and Perrito for the risk that they uncover the messy personality beneath the legend. Puss’s Achilles heel is made rather obvious: his ego and desire to maintain the legendary status that takes up so much space in his heart that there’s little room for everything else. But, in journeying with Softpaws and Perrito, he finds himself opening up and feeling more relieved every time he does. Choosing to let himself be known and letting others put their faith in him is enough to give him a new perspective. They’re all searching for something: to mend the wounds of their pasts and ensure a secure and brighter future, and this is done by allowing others to help shoulder these tasks. Sure, Puss is down to his last life, but letting people love him in this one is all that he’ll ever need. 

Despite there being many antagonists, the plotline manages to stay grounded when it could have easily dissolved into chaos. Each villain is well-rounded and straightforward when necessary, and all of them serve as foils to Puss in solidifying his final character arc. Goldilocks and the bears are a ragtag family of bandits whose journey of appreciating one another comes full circle as Puss begins to love his chosen family. Death desires to be respected; he’s frustrated by how careless Puss has been with his past lives and seeks to end the last one as punishment for the disrespect. Puss, who has been running from him for the entire movie, eventually squares up to face him. Tired of running, he is willing to fight for his loved ones and a newfound life. Jack Horner is simply an evil, spoiled, and destructive child, and defeating him requires Puss to shed his strict independence and cooperate with everyone around him.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” sticks its landing as it juggles sophistication, appealing to its target audience, and plot. While some jokes stick out as exceptionally childish and the film occasionally defaults to slapstick humor, these are scenes that children are meant to enjoy. Death and chosen family are two themes that the film drives home. While a younger audience might simply be entertained by the vivid colors and fights between a wolf with scythes and a cat with a sword, the movie manages to incorporate sophisticated messages. Family is who we choose to surround ourselves with, and it is our responsibility to learn how to appreciate those who choose to show up for us. Death is inevitable, and it is impossible to try and run from it. Instead of letting this be a paralyzing fear, we use this knowledge to be grateful for the life that we are gifted with and learn how to love more deeply. What’s more, life is meant to be shared. Life is most fulfilling when love is mutually exchanged, and in Puss’s case, it gives him enough courage to fight Death one-on-one. Complete with an A-List cast and incredible animation, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a great escapist movie for anyone with a couple of hours to spare. 

Released: December 2022
Grade: A

Image courtesy of Looper