Why Legends Never Die in ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’
The Shrek franchise has this strange presence in popular culture that is hard to comprehend fully. Born as the ugly stepchild of DreamWorks’s animation studio, the movie that was supposed to never see the light of day ended up rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s elite at the 2001 Academy Awards.
While Shrek had his last onscreen performance in 2010 with Shrek Forever After, his feline companion Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) starred in a 2011 prequel, Puss in Boots, that followed Puss’s adventures before joining Shrek and Donkey in their adventures. After ten years, Puss returns with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which takes place after the events of the Shrek franchise, where Puss struggles to live up to his reputation.
From the opening scene, the film declares that “this is a fairy tale,” and the film remarkably changes everything we have expected from the franchise in the first ten minutes. Director Joel Crawford injects stylized action sequences and visual gaps reminiscent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but makes the style own through unique visuals that we haven’t seen in animation before.
Read More: 5 Serious Takeaways From Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Co-Writer Rodney Rothman
For an animated film targeted towards younger audiences, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a great movie to learn from for any person interested in making live-action or animated films. Let’s break down the story of The Last Wish and what made this story a technical and visual delight.
What Happens in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
After renowned hero and outlaw Puss in Boots is fatally crushed by a bell, Puss wakes up in a hospital where a doctor informs him that he has used eight of his nine lives. With one life left, the doctor urges Puss to retire from his life of adventure.
Puss refuses but later changes his mind after meeting a mysterious black-hooded wolf (Wagner Moura) who disarms Puss, cuts him on his forehead, and taunts him to pick up his sword. Out of fear of dying, Puss flees to the house of Mama Luna, a cat lady, and ceremoniously buries his attire in her garden.
Later, the crime family of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears show up at Luna’s, looking to recruit Puss to steal the magical map of the Wishing Star from Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney) so they can grant a wish. After only finding Puss’s “grave,” the crime family leaves, and Puss follows with a stray dog that is only referred to as Perrito (Harvey Guillén).
Once Puss breaks into Horner’s bakery to steal the map and restore his life, he unexpectedly reunites with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault), who is seeking the map to find someone she can trust. The map leads the trio of Puss, Kitty, and Perrito into the Dark Forest, a pocket dimension that changes its terrain depending on the map’s holder. While Puss and Kitty both receive dark, hellish landscapes, Perrito’s is a colorful and tranquil forest.
During another run-in with Honer and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Puss spots the hooded wolf again and flees. Perrito follows and calms down Puss from his panic attack. Puss confesses to Perrito that he is living his last life and leaves Kitty at the altar on their wedding day. Kitty overhears this and tells Puss that she never attended the wedding either because she knew she couldn’t compete with someone who loved themselves more than her.
After reclaiming that map from Goldilocks, the landscape morphs, and Perrito is captured by the bears while Puss is trapped in a crystalline cave. Inside the cave, Puss encounters crystal reflections of his past lives, who mock him for changing his perspective on life.
During this argument, the hooded world appears, saying he followed the scent of Puss’s fear and introduced himself as Death. Death reveals that he seeks to kill Puss as retribution for wasting his past lives. Again, out of fear, Puss flees with the map, leaving Kitty and Perrito behind.
Meanwhile, Goldilocks reveals that she wishes for a human family, which devastates the bears, who see her as one of their own. Even though they are hurt, the bears agree to help her if this wish ultimately makes her happy.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Ending Explained
At the wishing star, Kitty confronts Puss for his selfishness. During their argument, Goldilocks, the bears, and Horner arrive, and another fight ensues.
Goldilocks forfeits her wish to save Baby Bear’s life during the fight. Horner is trapped inside his magical bottomless bag. When Puss is given the map, Death arrives, trapping Puss and himself in a ring of hellfire.
When Death challenges Puss to a duel, Puss agrees, forfeiting his wish and choosing to be brave and face Death. During the fight, Death notes that Puss has lost his arrogance and has finally accepted his mortality, and spares him after promising Puss that they will meet again.
Having eaten a magical growth cookie, Horner reemerges from his bag as a giant and takes the map from Puss and Kitty. As he attempts to make a wish, Perrito distracts him so Puss, Kitty, Goldilocks, and the bears can rip the map to shreds. This causes the Wishing Star to collapse and consume Horner.
As they watch the meteor shower from the ground, Goldilocks accepts the bears as her family, while Puss rekindles his love for Kitty and includes Perrito as a member of their group.
The Existential Crises of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
There comes a time in everyone’s life when we start to understand the finality of death. While the concept of death is relatively simple, the “ah-ha” moment of realizing that everything has an expiration date is…well, terrifying.
Understanding this grim subject matter is hard to make comforting, yet The Last Wish breaks down this existential crisis in an honest and comforting way. How does an animated movie about a suave anti-hero cat in the Shrek universe handle death? Let’s get into it.
For one, death is present from the beginning. A bell kills Puss, but the audience must remember that we live in a fantasy world, and the myth that a cat has nine lives becomes true in this story. The world’s rules are established without any room for misinterpretation: Puss is in his final life and will die if he doesn’t change his perspective on life.
Puss’s previous deaths resulted from his arrogance and lack of care for himself or others around him. He believes that his bravery came from a belief that he was invincible, which means that he had never felt accountable to himself or to anybody else.
If you truly want to understand Puss’s perspective on life, listen to the opening song of The Last Wish:
After being confronted by Death, both physically and methodically, Puss realizes that he can die. His last life is all he has. To persevere in this life, Puss chooses to let the legend of Puss in Boots fade into oblivion as he lives the rest of his days in a cat retirement home where he is miserable and goes through the motions of life.
After being forced into an adventure, Puss realizes how physically vulnerable he is and that he needs others’ support as much as he needs to support theirs.
In one of the most beautiful scenes of The Last Wish, Puss has a panic attack and disappears into the woods. When the animators put us into Puss’s perspective, the world is blurry, and the voices are distorted. Perrito finds Puss in this state, understanding that Puss is having a panic attack, and lays his head on Puss to comfort him in his time of need.
It is a simple moment, yet so profoundly moving because it shows how being there for someone in their time of need can make all the difference.
Death is scary, but The Last Wish reminds us that we all have to face death one day. Nobody dismisses Puss’s fear of death, yet they are all encouraging him not to run away in fear of it. Instead, enjoy the life you have and do what you can to be happy in the end.
Once Puss finds happiness from this adventure, a feeling he has never had before, his joy becomes a source of courage. He battles Death and admits that while he may not be able to defeat him, he will continue to fight for his life.
Smelling the Posies With Perrito
I am also skeptical about side characters in animated films, especially ones as adorable as Perrito. These characters are often reduced to being the butt of the joke, but Perrito is different. Perrito is okay with being the butt of the joke because he is involved with the other characters.
Dreaming of being a therapy dog, Perrito is relentlessly optimistic, offering insight into a new perspective on life. There are many reasons Perrito exists in this narrative, but one of my favorite moments is when the trio walks into the field of posies.
In this scene, posies violently shoot from the ground and block the path ahead. Puss and Kitty chop through the posies, attacking the enemy as they normally would, but the posies overwhelm them. Perrito, blissfully unaware of the dangers of the flowers, sniffs the posies, which allows him to walk past the flowers easily. Puss and Kitty must let go of their survival instincts and learn to take the time to smell the flowers.
When confronting death, we often lose sight of the small joys of life. Perrito reminds us to take the time and find value in those small, joyful moments.
Finding Your Chosen Family
While death is the ever-looming theme in The Last Wish, the B story, which often features secondary characters and their problems rather than having them support the main characters, focuses on Goldilocks and her wish to have a family of her own.
In this version of the fairy tale, Goldilocks is an orphan, or at least so young that when the bears discover her sleeping in Baby Bear’s (Samson Kayo) bed, they decide to keep her and raise her as one of their own. When we meet them in The Last Wish, they’ve been operating as a crime family.
The foursome works so well together that it is a gut punch to the bears and us when Goldilocks reveals that she wants a “proper” family. Papa and Mama Bear (Ray Winstone and Olivia Colman) make a heart-breaking decision to continue helping Goldilocks find the star anyway because they love and care for Goldilocks and want her to be happy.
The unawareness of the hurt Goldilocks causes something we have all done with people who care for us. It’s natural to be caught up in your ideas of what you want that you don’t take a step back to realize that you already have everything.
The relationship between the bears and Goldilocks is a perfect example of a chosen family and the mutual love and support we all crave in our lives.
Is This the End of Puss in Boots?
With his confidence restored and a newfound appreciation for the company, the future for Puss is open to new possibilities.
One possibility that The Last Wish explicitly teases at the end of the film is the possibility of checking back in with Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey as Puss and his team sail for the kingdom of Far Far Away. We did see many familiar faces from the Shrek films in The Last Wish, like Gingy the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) and Pinocchio. We also see brief glimpses of Shrek and Donkey with Puss as his lives flash before his eyes.
Puss is a wonderful character that is open to any challenge that comes his way. Although he tends to stick to his Zorro-esque ways, Puss is a revolutionary figure who is open to change if it means helping those he does care about. Even though it took more than ten years to get the first sequel to Puss in Boots, the spin-off franchise is fully realized and knows how to tackle heavy conversation in a fun and honest way.