“Imagine taking over a decade to make a sequel just to get beat by Puss in Boots,” says a tweet by @MelonSaurus comparing the animated film to Avatar 2. James Cameron’s much awaited sequel may not have been as critically-acclaimed as the first movie, but its visually arresting action sequences were, a lot say, worth the three-hour runtime.
But Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a sequel that no one really asked for, was even better perhaps because it came unexpectedly. The movie delivered exciting non-photorealistic animation (similar to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s groundbreaking stylistic choices), brilliant voice acting, and well-rounded characters in a reimagined fairy tale universe. And the premise was surprisingly deep and nuanced, with more mature themes that resonated with adult viewers.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Premise
Based on an Italian fairy tale figure of the same name, Puss in Boots was first introduced in Shrek 2 as a mercenary who has a change of heart. Because of his humor and, let’s face it, adorable begging eyes, Puss in Boots became an instant hit. A standalone spinoff series became inevitable in what I like to call the SCU, or the Shrek Cinematic Universe.
The charismatic anthropomorphic character returned to the big screen in The Last Wish, with excellent direction by Joel Crawford and the return of Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. A village doctor informs our protagonist that he has used up his eight spare lives and is down to his last.
At first, this realization doesn’t faze the legendary hero of Del Mar. He goes drinking in a cantina as usual until he is interrupted by a hooded wolf called Lobo, who came to collect him for bounty. Lobo wounds Puss in Boots in duel, sending the mythical cat into a new territory: fear. He manages a narrow escape and seeks refuge in the home of Mama Luna, who was said to take care of stray cats.
In this feline-infested home on the outskirts of town, Puss in Boots buries his spirit for adventure and danger, and vows to live a domesticated but ultimately safe final life. That is, until he hears of the fabled Last Wish that might just restore his previous lives and the legend of Puss in Boots.
Mortality, Anxiety, and Found Families as The Main Themes in The Last Wish
Puss in Boots might be the hero of the spinoff but he is also a deeply flawed character. His arrogance and selfishness get in the way of his relationships, particularly with his former professional and romantic partner Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault). What makes Puss in Boots a local legend is his heroic efforts, which he’s able to achieve in part due to having nine lives. Somewhere along his daring existence, he’s confused having multiple lives for invincibility.
But Puss in Boots doesn’t have an unlimited number of lives and The Last Wish forces him to reconcile with that difficult fact. The inevitability of death is something that he has never truly considered prior to his near-death brush with Lobo, who is death come to life. He’s not after Puss in Boots for a bounty. Lobo, the movie’s version of a grim reaper, felt that the cat squandered away the many lives he was given and has come to take away his last.
Death has always been a tricky topic for a young audience, but animated films have never shied away from exploring it. Bambi, The Lion King, and more recent releases like Up and Coco have all featured character deaths and the ensuing grief that the main character has to grapple with. Puss in Boots does it a bit differently because it’s the main character himself who has to come to terms with his own demise.
Here’s the point where Puss in Boots transforms from a fearless adventurer to a tamed pet. His fear of Lobo develops into what is clearly a panic disorder, which is another more mature theme that The Last Wish wasn’t afraid to portray. It even represents therapy positively in the form of Perrito, a stray dog who has accompanied Puss in Boots in his quest for the wishing star. Perrito calms his feline friend down during a panic attack that was triggered by an encounter with Lobo. Those who’ve had therapy dogs know that it’s exactly what service animals for mental illness are trained to do—and it’s a win to see it portrayed on screen, especially in a movie aimed at an impressionable audience.
Perrito’s addition to the franchise is another welcome surprise. He’s a naive but lovable stray that nobody wanted, so finding Puss in Boots and Kitty Softpaws was more than he could hope for. Much like the storyline of Goldie and the Bears, a crime family based on the story of Goldilocks, Perrito’s journey highlights the concept of found family. He also serves as the emotional anchor of not just the two cats but the entire movie itself. And, more importantly, he reminds Puss in Boots to quite literally stop and smell the roses. Perrito and his overall zest for life teaches our hero a very valuable lesson that ultimately saves his final life.
The Last Wish tackles the subject of mortality not from the point of view of a character who might deal with the aftermath of someone’s death. Instead, it forces viewers to consider mortality from their own point of view—what do you do in the face of death? Do you avoid it or prepare for it?
Not to force young viewers into an existential crisis, but the dilemma of Puss in Boots sends a message that can be simplified as: make your life count. Most of us only get one, and it shouldn’t be spent seeking meaningless adventures to fill the void. Perhaps what can quell the fear of death is knowing we keep what matters most to us—such as love and family—close to our hearts. The only way to prepare for the inevitability of death is to make sure our time spent as mortals mattered.
Watch the Puss in Boots: The Last Wish trailer here: