Puss in Boots: The Last Wish review: Fight for his (last) life

More than a decade after the Shrek prequel/spinoff Puss in Boots, the flamboyant feline is showing off his old tricks — but has yet to meet the computer-animated ogre whose party he’s tasked with crashing in Shrek 2. Over the course of this series, the “Shrek” franchise has absorbed so many popular supporting characters that by the fourth appearance there was hardly room to wield a cat.

A knee-high hero who walks, talks, and sabers, Puss was one of the few tagalongs wealthy enough to justify his own origin story. Now director Joel Crawford (“The Croods: A New Age”) goes dark and confronts the fearless cat with her own mortality. By forcing Puss to think about his priorities, the sequel more than justifies its own existence while paving the way for his path to meet that of the big green dude.

The stakes may be more serious this time around, but the film is just as entertaining as you’d expect from the clever team at DreamWorks Animation, who’s had a rocky few years and Illumination is taking a back seat over at Universal (“Minions” – Connoisseur Chris Meledandri serves as executive producer here). Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is DWA’s best film since the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy and reflects some of the lessons from this series, including the notion that cartoon characters become far more interesting when they’re not immortal.

Co-written by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow and featuring charming Spanish dialogue throughout, this fairytale adventure begins with Puss losing his eighth life. This kitty is too cocky to recognize at first, but the town vet gives him a rough summary of his past deaths, making for a hilarious (to us) and chilling (to Puss) montage of all the ways his grandiose ego ( so perfectly captured by The Mask of Zorro star Antonio Banderas’ voice work) has so far put him in jeopardy.

Cartoon cats can take all kinds of abuse — just ask Tom, after years of Jerry’s violent shenanigans — but it’s probably best not to test fate when you’re in Puss’s shoes, especially if they’re from one bounty hunters being pursued by a big bad wolf (as the wolf (Narcos” boss Wagner Moura gives a terrifically menacing twist). Crawford stages Puss’ first encounter with this reaper like a scene straight out of a Sergio Leone film, just as Frank Miller would have drawn it for one of his “Daredevil” comics: strong poses, extreme angles, and high-contrast graphic effects. (Composer Heitor Pereira provides appropriate Morricone-style music.)

After this dramatic showdown turns Puss into a trembling scaredy cat, our hero scoots off to live with Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a self-proclaimed “cat lover” whose cat-infested home always has room for another stray. Desperate and humbled, Puss buries his cavalier hat, cloak, and boots in the yard trying to fit in, meeting an unnamed mutt in kitty disguise among Mama Luna’s roughly three dozen rescuers.

The film piles on characters over time – from Goldi (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears crime family to Jack Horner (John Mulaney) – until the cast has swollen into Shrek. like levels. But no worry! Mother Goose rejects Jack Horner and makes a lame villain. But as complicated as the plot gets, it’s based around characters with well-defined desires, which makes sense since they’re all looking for the same thing: a shooting star has landed in the dark forest, and whoever reaches it first is entitled to a wish.

Puss wants his life back. The others, including Puss’ former lover Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), have equally compelling motives. Only the mangy canine amigo of Puss (Harvey Guillén) seems content with what he’s got, which you’d better think rubs off on the others. Still, it takes a sharp script to do it in such a surprising way, and that’s more than most toons could wish for.

The film feels most inspired in the first half hour, when Puss is yanked out of his comfort zone, which is accompanied by a huge shift in visual style for a DreamWorks toon: production designer Nate Wragg eschews traditional CG codes and strives for an expressionist one Styled with a picture-book feel, with no lines and a refreshing rejection of photorealistic detail. Rather than distract us with the lifelike look of Puss’s fur follicles, the crew takes a more painterly approach that still allows the virtual camera to bounce around the room during the action sequences. That same dynamic was a hallmark of the earlier film with its rooftop chase scenes, which looks infinitely better in this new style.

It’s alarming how quickly computer-animated cartoons go out of date. Most viewers won’t pick it up, but the character rigs are vastly improved here. Shoulders so often looked odd in the Shrek movies, while this time around humans and animals alike have a much wider and more convincing range of poses. Add to that the painterly upgrade, and Puss will have paved the way for a whole new aesthetic by the time the studio decides to give Shrek a reboot.

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/puss-in-boots-the-last-wish-review-antonio-banderas-1235441195/ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish review: Fight for his (last) life

Charles Jones

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