By Sam Burzinski
Blog Content Contributor
What kind of attachment do I have to Shrek?
Sure, it seems every kid born from 1995 through 2013 knows Shrek like a close friend, and he was unanimous Meme MVP of 2017, but me? I didn’t see the first one until I was 13, “Shrek 2” is a film I enjoy well enough and I saw the final two sequels when they came out (and then never again). Beyond that, my family still owns the “Shrek the Third” McDonalds cups with pride, and my sister gifted me a Shrek plaque that still adorns my wall to this day.
So is that why I feel almost complete apathy towards “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”?
The movie was born out of a recent revolution in CG animated films, with the inception point of these ideas coming from 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” Flashy, kinetic 3D animation is layered under a sheen of painterly 2D animation. The result is a stunning display of super-feline feats of heroism, action and artistic technique to undeniable success.
“Puss in Boots 2,” which is how I’ll refer to it from here on out to avoid confusion with the 2011 prequel, follows the titular hero, who is on his last of nine lives, alongside his old romantic flame Kitty Softpaws and a stray puppy by the name of Perrito as they try to find the so-called “Last Wish” in competition with the Three Bears gang and a maniacal Little Jack Horner.
Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek turn in undeniably compelling vocal performances as Puss and Softpaws, and there is a veritable murderer’s row of talent making up the supporting cast; including, but not limited to, John Mulaney, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone and Wagner Moura in particular as the physical personification of Death, stalking Puss all the way throughout the journey.
The movie, as crazy it may seem (read: not at all), has been absolutely sweeping the internet over the past few months, and a recent nomination for the Academy Award for Best Animation Feature has only intensified this. For a generation practically born out of the internet, a product that’s so artistically driven is something that’s undeniably exciting to see, but at the heart of it, it’s still exactly that: a product.
As pessimistic as it sounds to say, “Puss in Boots 2” is still a part of one of the biggest animated franchises in the world, with each “Shrek” or “Shrek”-adjacent film grossing, in total, over $3 billion worldwide. The only difference, it seems, between the most recent entry and a movie that in 2004 had a medieval-style “Cops” joke, is a fresh coat of animated paint. Beyond a quick few callouts, the mainline “Shrek” characters are never in the film, but the humor is nonetheless nearly identical to if the movie had been made in 2009.
I saw “Puss in Boots 2” in the theater for the birthday of a friend, who, upon walking out, proclaimed it one of the best movies he had seen in recent years. I would honestly, on the best of days, give it a solid 7/10, and he would probably have me executed for saying that if he heard me.
As for the people of the world, and though it may seem to be confirmation bias in action, who are so eager about “Puss in Boots 2” being not just one of the best animated movies of the past year, but one of The Great Movies™? I just don’t get it. It didn’t click with me, but it was one of the best “didn’t click with me”s in recent memory.
None of this is to say that the movie is bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. The animation is absolutely lovely. The quick, motion-blurred action makes it quite clear that the team behind this movie grew up on Toonami-era anime and Newgrounds flash animations, and we as a culture are all the better for it. Every character, background and impact frame has visible brushstrokes that harken to how the movie would actually look as a fairy tale in a leather-bound storybook.
The character of Death has been cited in recent months as one of the best villains in animation, but I just can’t abide by that statement. Death’s role in the movie is an antagonist, for sure, but we have to be aware of the difference between “opposing the protagonist” and “being a villainous character.” Death opposes Puss in Boots, sure, but the real villain is a favorite of mine: “Little” Jack Horner.
Horner, voiced by the incomparable John Mulaney, is just plain evil. His backstory is almost useless to try and sum up beyond “he’s big and angry and a mean person.” Mulaney voices him as a petulant child who has a bag of magic items just read to be misused. On top of this is Horner’s foil: the “Ethical Bug,” a clear analogue to the Talking Cricket of “Pinocchio” fame. Mr. Bug speaks, almost inexplicably, in a Jimmy Stewart impression while fruitlessly trying to convince Horner to listen to what little conscience he has left. This is to little avail, Horner is evil to the very end and I absolutely love it.
I would never say that “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is an outright bad, or even okay movie. It’s good! I get why people love the dynamic between Goldilocks and her found family of bears, or the very human fears of Mr. Boots having but one last life to live, or the movie’s portrayal of what having a panic attack feels like! (The last one maybe less so, but I digress.) It just wasn’t for me and that’s perfectly fine. All too often in recent years, internet-poisoned brains endlessly argue about something being “the best” when art is, by undeniable definition, always going to be subjective.
At the end of the day, it’s a movie about a cat with snazzy footwear doing cool things. The world would be a lot nicer if we could all come together, live in peace as one and say “You know what? That sounds pretty cool.”
Written by: Hannah Walls