“Who is your favorite fearless hero?”
It’s a question the film “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” asks the audience in DreamWorks Animation’s latest theatrical release. The long-awaited sequel pits the titular character against his greatest enemy yet: himself. The catchy opening track proves ironic as Puss battles his anxieties about death and fragility.
The film has the grandiose animation style of a graphic novel. Each slash of the sword or tap of the heel is accompanied by movement and speed lines, a unique animation style similar to 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” The opening scene of Puss battling the governor and a giant in the town of Del Mar is visually stunning.
When soaking up the praise of Del Mar’s citizens, Puss is fatally hit by a falling bell. When he wakes up, he discerns that he has burnt through eight of his nine lives. While the doctor recommends hanging up his boots, feathered hat and sword, Puss remains undaunted. That is until he comes face-to-face with a hooded wolf. Puss prepares to defeat his enemy with ease, but the wolf’s dual-wield scythes prove too much.
It is revealed that the wolf is death personified. The wolf is accompanied by his signature whistle, a nod to Fritz Lang’s 1931 film “M,” in which the murderer whistles “In the Hall of the Mountain King” before committing crimes. He adorns coins over his eyes, referencing the ancient Greek myth of paying for the ferry ride to the underworld. The wolf haunts Puss and causes his anxiety and panic attacks.
With his heart pounding and vision tunneling, Puss escapes and retires to Mama Luna, a stereotypical cat lady. He buries his uniform and resigns to the life of a house cat. Puss finds out he doesn’t fit in, but slowly conforms to the lifestyle as his beard grows longer and longer.
An opportunity arises when Goldilocks and the Three Bears break into Mama Luna’s. Puss catches wind of a map leading to the magical Wishing Star that can grant one wish and give him more lives. With this possibility, Puss unsheaths his famous outfit from the ground alongside an abandoned dog. The dog is determined to partner up with Puss despite his reluctance.
The dog, named Perrito, brandishes his innocence and positivity despite a lifetime of abandonment and trauma.
Puss, Perrito and Softpaws (Puss’ love interest) make it away from the house of Jack Horner, a pie chef who abuses magic. They take the map and head to the Dark Forest. On their journey, the theme of mistrust affects each character. Puss’ vanity requires he work alone, Softpaws remains scarred since Puss left her at the altar and Perrito wants to belong.
Softpaws and Puss’ power struggle continues as Perrito tells them to “stop and smell the roses.” He names the trio “Team Friendship,” putting the film’s message a bit too on the nose.
Goldilocks and the bears struggle on their mission to the star too. Following a string of “just right” references, Goldilocks reveals to her bear family she plans to wish for a “proper family,” breaking the heart of Mama Bear. The family tackles the idea of “just right” — defining it as whatever makes you happy — and continues their mission to give Goldilocks her wish.
Horner racks up health violations and wastes away like garbage. A magic cricket serving as Horner’s conscience betrays him, putting the final nail in his coffin.
The film climaxes at the location of the star, where everyone gives up their wish. Goldilocks gives up her chance at the wish to save Baby Bear and Softpaws gives up her wish after finding trust in Puss and Perrito. The diegetic whistle from the wolf is heard and a final battle with Puss begins. “Death” eventually surrenders, realizing Puss is a changed cat.
The film has gained popularity through word-of-mouth advertising. Platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok have raved about its approach to mental health. For an animated film targeted towards children, it is difficult to find any Gen-Z or Millenial who hasn’t heard of it. In just over a month, the film has pulled in over $336 million in box office revenue and has received multiple nominations for Best Animated Feature Film.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” isn’t perfect. The pacing is disorienting at times, the Goldilocks storyline felt rushed and the key message was hammered home too much at times. Regardless, the film’s wild popularity among an older audience is due to its approach to adult topics.
This film takes adult themes, like mental health awareness and trust, and delivers a palatable film without being in-your-face. With a mesmerizing animation style and childhood nostalgia, this film should be a call to revolutionize animated films — bringing back young and old demographics alike.