After eleven years, the infamous Puss in Boots is back on the big screen, and what a comeback it is. As Puss throws an extravagant fiesta for the locals of a seaside town, he accidentally awakens a nearby giant and attempts to save the town from this threat. Puss, the giant and background props and scenery move to the beat of a rhythmic score, with a lower frame rate accentuating key poses, often in extended, dynamic shots. What ensues are laugh out loud jokes, exciting action and frames bursting with colour. And this is only the first ten minutes.
It feels strange that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish exists in the first place – a sequel to a film not many look back to today which went through development hell. But thank goodness it does, as The Last Wish is up there with the best entries in the Shrek franchise, and certainly one of DreamWorks Animation's best features to date. It has all the right ingredients for a fun action adventure that everyone will enjoy, but a surprisingly mature narrative and stellar animation elevates this into something special.
Puss (Antonia Banderas) is still the lovable rogue with a thirst for adventure, until he's unceremoniously killed off. He figuratively lands on his feet but comes to the sobering reality that he's used eight of his nine lives. After hearing the mythical Wishing Star is indeed real, Puss embarks on a quest to wish his previous eight lives back with the help of friends old and new. Of course he's not the only fairytale character after the Wishing Star, and that's far from the biggest obstacle Puss has to face.
Unlike the Disney Animation classics, DreamWorks Animation doesn't have that many memorable villains, but The Last Wish arguably produces the best one yet. Seemingly just a bounty hunter out for Puss, Wolf (Wagner Moura) is always hot on his tail and a constant threat. Wolf is legitimately terrifying – even more so when his true nature is revealed. Adults will be genuinely scared of Wolf as well as the kids, and that's largely thanks to some great character design and haunting voice work. Puss won't be the only one quaking in his boots every time Wolf shows up.
The other characters, friends and foes, also make a mark too. Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) makes a return and self-proclaimed therapy dog Perrito (Harvey Guillen) joins along, with both providing laughs and heart in equal measure. Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Samson Kayo, Olivia Coleman and Ray Winstone) are after the Wishing Star too, but have their own meaningful subplot. Jack Horner (John Mulaney) is a more generic adversary but makes up for it with big laughs and creative tools in his magical arsenal that light up the screen in the film's many set pieces.
Ever since DreamWorks moved away from ‘realistic' 3D animation and towards a more expressive style, it's only made their films more creative and visually engaging. The Last Wish might be their best looking feature to date. The overall design is reminiscent of fairytale paintings and illustrations, but it's brought to life with an explosion of colour. The typically lush, vivid visuals contrast well against Wolf's darkness whenever he appears on screen. Below the surface are clever choices in the setting and locations the cast of characters traverse through, as they take advantage of the bright colour palette whilst also leading to creative action sequences.
Bringing everything together is the compelling story. The Last Wish doesn't look down on its presumably young audience, diving head first into themes of death and existential dread. Of course it delivers an optimistic message: make the most out of the one life we have. There are other narrative beats and themes at play too – loneliness, narcissism, family, trust – but they all seamlessly feed into the core theme and message. The Last Wish won't get the audience teary-eyed but it will get them appreciating the precious time we have outside the cinema.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish exceeds expectations by quite some margin. It'll keep adults and kids on the edge of their seats with thrilling action, big laughs, terrifying villains and a heart-warming story. Whilst The Last Wish is excellent, perhaps the most exciting outcome of this project is that this new stylised direction is here to stay for DreamWorks Animation. If it does, maybe the studio can give Disney, even Sony Pictures Animation, a run for its money.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish releases in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd February.