Stunning, Painterly Clashes With Death in Puss In Boots: The Last Wish


Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is a movie that announced its arrival out of nowhere and busted down the door. It has absolutely no right to go as hard as it does.

The animated film features the titular Puss on the last of his nine lives. Puss finds himself at odds with his mortality and previous carefree attitude toward danger and thus races to find the titular Last Wish and regain his past lives.

Puss In Boots 2 features easily my favorite look for an animated movie since Into The Spiderverse, and one of the four most visually enticing movies I’ve seen recently. That’s impressive given that the other three are Dune, an Oscar winner in VFX; Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, the avant-garde masterpiece of the year; and Avatar 2, that’s already rewritten the book for VFX.

Puss In Boots 2 uses a painterly, storybook art style to extraordinarily gorgeous effect — each still shot of the movie is a visual feast. While so many 3D animated movies struggle with feeling washed out or generic, Puss In Boots 2 is vibrant. It further uses the visual flairs of “Spiderverse”-like freeze-frame explosions of color to exaggerate important moments and frame rate manipulation to emphasize action scenes, all combined with inspired directorial choice in camera movement, framing of scenes, and general cinematography.

Of course, many people, upon seeing the first trailers, expected Puss In Boots 2 to impress visually, but all other parts of the movie were stellar too. The character writing, for example, is top-notch. The cast is precisely as big as it needs to be, with not one featured individual missing a beat and each following their subplots and lessons that never distract from the main story.

Particularly, Puss’s former love interest Kitty Softpaws has an elegantly compelling B-plot about learning to trust again after a lifetime of betrayals, even by Puss himself, and the secondary antagonists Goldilocks and the Three Bears follow a touching arc about found family and coming to appreciate the people we have around us. Jack Horner is incredible; his unabashed horridness — a spoiled rich kid who wants to steal all magic for himself — is hilarious, and his knock-off Jiminy Cricket companion coming to grips with his irredeemable nature is a significant highlight. Kitty and Puss’s companion dog was one I expected to be annoying, but his relentless optimism — even as he describes being abandoned and nearly drowned as a puppy — is inspiring, and his desire to be a therapy dog genuinely heartwarming.

Despite the large cast, the movie never felt bloated or unbalanced. I only complain that Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ gimmicky “just right” phrase got a bit old and that they should have been around longer. The pacing also toed the line between excitingly breakneck and distractingly overstimulating.

Speaking of the movie’s messages, one of the stand-out parts of Puss In Boots 2 is its treatment of death, as personified by its main villain, Death. He is a delightful shift from a long trend for animated movies to use villains of dubious quality or to forgo antagonists entirely. It is wonderful to get a convincingly evil, menacing, and at times truly terrifying villain in this whistling, towering wolf with blood-red eyes and dual sickles, come to tear away Puss’ last life for so frivolously wasting his past eight.

Death is genuinely scary in a way I didn’t expect from a mainstream animation studio. When he first arrived, I and other teenage moviegoers jumped in our seats, and every time he appeared, a toddler started crying and had to be carried out by parents (props to the parents for doing that, though). Puss is humbled in his first tussle with death — “touched by a blade” for the first time, bleeding, and having lost his sword — and from here, the movie portrays the horror of Death so palpably, visually with lighting changes, slow-mo and zooming as the music cuts out to Death’s bone-chilling whistle and Puss’ drumming heart.

Puss In Boots 2 features easily my favorite look for an animated movie since Into The Spiderverse.

This fear of Death, the concept and the character, drives this movie and its lesson. One of my favorite scenes in this movie occurs after Puss spots Death leering at him during a fight with Jack Horner and runs away into the woods. After he collapses, suffering from a panic attack, the dog finds him and comforts him until he can breathe again. This scene hit me hard personally as someone dealing with anxiety attacks, and it was a stunningly faithful portrayal of panic attacks and how to help someone in need.

From this point, Puss realizes how important other people are after eight lives of living as a solo hero, trusting the dog more and opening up to Kitty again. When confronted with his arrogant past lives, he disregards them, and near the end, as he faces off against Death in a beautifully choreographed duel, Puss sees his final life flash before his life and the people that made it special.

The movie expresses that one life is enough, as Puss concludes. We just need to make the best of it with people we trust and love. The end comes for us all, yes, but we need not fear it.

I’ll confess something: I haven’t watched that many movies recently. Part of that’s because I got busy, and part is because I didn’t find the desire to; burnout hit me hard, and so did the homogenization of media in the entertainment industry. Plus, why go outside when you’re cold, wet, and dying of clogged sinuses when you have Netflix and “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure”?

Avatar 2 brought me back to theaters, sure, but I had unadulterated fun with Puss In Boots 2; for the first time in a while, Avatar 2 reintroduced me to the theater experience, while Puss In Boots 2 relit my love for movies.