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Puss In Boots: The Last Wish Review: A Last Wish Let Down

  • The "Spider-Verse"-inspired visual style is a perfect fit for this adventure
  • In a film with a gag rate this high, plenty of the punchlines land!
  • Lacks the comic inspiration of the earliest "Shrek" films
  • A run-of-the-mill adventure - it's hard to understand why this was worth resurrecting the franchise for

It's something of a mystery as to how "Shrek" has managed to endure for so long after its release. Although the original film and its first sequel are arguably the most beloved films in the Dreamworks back catalog, they're both clear products of their era, stuffed with pop culture gags younger audiences would now have to Google to understand, be they references to old TV game shows (which were inexplicably carried over to the later stage musical adaptation), or jokes about celebrity culture of the early 2000's. "Shrek 2" included a gag about Cameron Diaz dating Justin Timberlake that was already dated by the release of "Shrek the Third," in which Timberlake starred, three years later — and yet, that 2004 sequel was a big hit with streamers on Netflix in 2022 and is still beloved by millions even as it becomes more of a relic, one joke at a time.

Not the cat's pajamas

Is the enduring appeal of the franchise entirely due to millennial nostalgia and years worth of memes, or are younger generations equally invested in the fairytale-skewering franchise? That question is going to be firmly answered with "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," a sequel to the 2011 spin-off centered on Antonio Banderas' feisty feline which also doubles up as the first entry in this "Shrek" cinematic universe to reach the big screen in more than a decade. Although this story isn't a reboot, featuring many familiar comforts from the original "Shrek" saga, it is still has to shoulder the burden of being a soft relaunch of the series, keenly aware that today's younger viewers won't have even been born the last time any of these characters were last on the big screen.

The stale pop culture references are out, the CGI animation has been given a post-"Spider-Verse" comic-book style renovation, and the story exists as a standalone adventure that keeps its ties to the swamp and the kingdom of Far Far Away as minimal as possible. The result is far more enjoyable than the previous solo "Puss in Boots" outing — and yet despite the superficial visual pleasures and a healthy dose of solid gags, there's very little within the film that justifies why the franchise needed to be resurrected to tell this story in the first place. It mercifully doesn't coast on millennial nostalgia in the way I feared it would, but there's equally little within this run-of-the-mill adventure that answers why the next generation should start caring about this character too.

Picking up after the events of the first film — although not in too much depth to prove overwhelming for newcomers — Puss in Boots (Banderas) is hailed as a hero, albeit one whose death defying experiences are about to come to an end, after getting told he's burnt through eight lives and onto his last. He reluctantly agrees to start a new life as a house cat, but that's cut short when Goldi (Florence Pugh) and the three bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) show up looking for him, hoping to claim a reward for his capture. It's through this encounter that Puss learns of the Wishing Star, that he aims to find in the hope of restoring his eight previous lives. Unfortunately for him, the map to its location is being held by Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), who much like Goldi and the three bears, has more nefarious intentions with his wishes.

As a cursory glance of that plot summary can attest, "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" may appear distinctive within the franchise due to its visual style, but it remains the same when it comes to its light hearted subversion of fairytale lore. While there is comic inspiration to how little Jack Horner has been reinvented as a sinister villain, tired of people looking down on him his entire life, the strange reinterpretation of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is a clearer sign of a franchise running low on ideas, with very few familiar stories left to parody. The idea of Goldilocks teaming up with the bears to become a crime family after getting rumbled by them has some mileage, but screenwriters Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow instead go back to the drawing board with the original fairytale, having to rewrite it as they can't get the joke to work within its parameters. The "Shrek" films successfully managed to satirize beloved tales without needing to drastically alter the original text to land the punchline, which is far from the case here.

But there is some visual purr-fection

There are still plenty of amusing gags peppered throughout the screenplay, from the opening montage of Puss in Boots losing each of his previous lives to his awkward relationship with therapy dog Perrito (voiced by "What We Do in the Shadows" star Harvey Guillén). At times, it is noticeably lazier than the original "Shrek" films in its joke writing; by the time Salma Hayek's Kitty Softpaws is re-introduced, it falls back to the same flaw as the previous "Puss in Boots" outing, having the feline couple reference name check various aspects of Latin American culture but without making them into anything approaching a joke. By the time Kitty makes an irrelevant reference to her quinceañera during an action sequence, it's easy to think that the filmmakers believe simply name-checking anything that sounds Spanish can work as a joke in and of itself.

Only in the visual style, that now-familiar story book design pioneered by "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," does the film feel consistently refreshing, even as this animation style threatens to become derivative by overuse (this is the second Dreamworks film in 2022 to bear the "Spider-Verse" influence, following "The Bad Guys"). Bob Persichetti, one of the three credited directors of "Spider-Verse," was originally announced as the project's director, but even in his departure his visual influence is laid bare over every frame of the film. And while the action sequences aren't as ingeniously designed as in that Academy Award-winning effort, they are still the most breathtaking within the entire "Shrek" franchise, offering further proof that CG animation is at its most effective when it abandons any aspirations towards photorealism.

There might be enough to entertain children within "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," but it's unlikely this will make them fall in love with the character in the same way "Shrek 2" did effortlessly nearly two decades ago. As for millennial fans looking for a dose of nostalgia? Well, the first two "Shrek" movies are still available to stream.

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" crawls into theaters on Wednesday, December 21.