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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has restored my faith in Hollywood


(Last Updated On: March 18, 2023)

A few years ago, if you were to tell me that a sequel story about a retired swashbuckling cartoon cat would potentially end up being one of my favourite films of the year, I would’ve probably laughed in your face. Let’s be honest: Hollywood has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to reboots. And when it comes to animated features, well, the less said about that the better.

So imagine my shock when I sat down to watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. My faith in the ability of Hollywood to make heartfelt, genuine films free of political pandering has been restored for the first time in a long time. A spin-off from the Shrek franchise, it is a clever, funny, and powerful meditation on friendship, loyalty, and the inevitability of death. Not since Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies has an animated movie moved me as much as this 90-minute children’s adventure from DreamWorks.

We are introduced to Puss doing what he does best – kicking butt. During a beautifully shot and visually spectacular fight scene, our hero dispatches the bad guy with relative ease. Not shy about his success, he revels in fame and adulation, basking in the glory. However, his showboating comes to an abrupt end when a falling bell kills him. Luckily, he wakes up in a doctor’s office to be told he was saved by his nine lives. What he’s then told changes his world forever. It turns out the years of death-defying stunts have finally caught up with him. Our hero is now down to his last life. Down on his luck, he seeks solace in a nearby bar.

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In the course of drinking away his sorrows, Puss is attacked by a mysterious hooded wolf, whom he mistakenly believes is a bounty hunter. Our feline friend is easily disarmed, suffering an embarrassing defeat. Realizing he is no longer invincible, he flees in shame. Now scared for the first time in his life, he says goodbye to his former self and heads to a retirement home. Here he befriends a dog named Perrito. His glory days seem to be behind him. That is until fate throws a curve-ball Goldilocks and the Three Bears crime family show up, asking Puss to retrieve a magical map stolen long ago by the evil pastry chef, Big Jack Horner. The map reveals the location of a wishing star. Puss returns to adventure after realising he can use it to reclaim his lives. This time, to steal the map.

Accompanied by Perrito, they break into Horner’s bakery to steal the map. This brings him into contact with his old girlfriend, Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Selma Hayek), who is on her own quest for the map. Deciding it wise to work together, the three manage to escape, hotly pursued by Horner and the Goldilocks crime family. Does the self-obsessed feline have what it takes to work with others? Is it possible for him to overcome his fear of death now that he is down to his last life? In a world of instant access to material wealth, fame, and knowledge, Puss in Boots is a tale about the power of deferred gratification and the value of friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

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As I wrote in this week’s magazine, when you address these timeless universal truths, they have the ability to resonate with all of us. This is just as much a movie for adults as it is for children.

All good stories also contain an element of symbolism. Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) represents the insecurity and anxiety that comes with growing older. The swashbuckling protagonist may have fought and won all his battles, but his biggest enemy now is his mortality. In one particularly memorable scene, Puss is being chased by a hooded figure in the woods. This could easily be read as an attempt to avoid confrontation with reality: that the grains of sand in life’s hourglass eventually run out for all of us. All his life, Puss has been an adrenaline junkie, running from one adventure to the next. The fearless feline never stays around long enough to feel fear. Now, for the first time in his life, and without the safety net of his nine lives, he is forced to accept his mortality and make the most of what time he has left. If you thought this was going to be a silly movie about a cartoon cat, think again.

It also looks great. This is an artistic team at the peak of their abilities. The colour palette is both rich and expansive, at times almost psychedelic – fight sequences explode with lysergic radiance. The action sequences were filmed using a technique known to fans of the Spider-Verse as motion smearing. By reducing the number of frames, animators can make animation faster. Think of the effect when you leave a camera’s shutter open for a long period of time. Stylistically, the end result perfectly captures high-speed action and movement.

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Part of the key to a film’s lasting success is its ability to make you think. And Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, got me thinking. Not just about my own life, which is nearing the end of its shelf life, but also about my cat. After falling twenty feet off my balcony last year, he must have used up a few lives by now.

It’s a big claim to make, but so far, this is the animated equivalent of Ikiru, Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic drama. Ikiru, an intransitive verb meaning ‘to live’, is about the struggle to find meaning in life when faced with the finality of death. Who would have thought a story about an ageing cat could be that good? I assure you that it is.

Cats. You either love them or hate them. I love them.

As reported by The Spectator Australia