Year:  2022

Director:  Joel Crawford, Januel Mercado

Rated:  PG

Release:  December 26, 2022

Distributor: Universal

Running time: 102 minutes

Worth: $16.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Oliva Colman, John Mulaney, Ray Winstone (voices)

… a curveball wrapped in a hairball, and it’s an easy contender for DreamWorks’ best work in years, if not ever.

Animated films like this are worth cherishing; family films with something for everyone. DreamWorks Animation has an enviable track record of family fare (Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, Trolls), but Puss in Boots: The Last Wish represents a new apex. It’s a curveball wrapped in a hairball, and it’s an easy contender for the studio’s best work in years, if not ever.

Much like their last film, the Sly Cooper-esque The Bad Guys, this takes a few stylistic cues from the paradigm shift that is Into The Spider-Verse. While still recognisably of the Shrek family, it’s been boosted with brushstroke effects to give it the look of something pulled right out of a dusty fairy tale tome. It also cribs some of the framerate screwery of Spider-Verse, although that feels a bit needless here and can distract from the otherwise-fantastic action scenes.

But the major achievement here is in the main setting, the magical Dark Forest. Taking the idea of 3D animation as something capable of warping reality, this vibrant and ever-shifting landscape offers real eye candy, not to mention a solid foundation for the film’s central ideas.

The ideas are some of the darkest and most mature emotions of any DreamWorks film, with the titular folk hero coming face-to-face with the prospect of his own death. Heavy stuff, especially when fused with the genuinely creepy imagery manifestations of his fears. And, from a returning Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws to continue the first film’s Desperado shenanigans, to Goldilocks and her crime family of bears giving Florence Pugh and Olivia Colman something meaty to chew on, to John Mulaney as the deliciously evil Jack Horner, every character gets their chance to shine.

The biggest star here is Harvey Guillén as an aspiring therapy dog and Puss’ sidekick for the bulk of the film. He’s not so much heartwarming as he is skilled at cracking open ribcages and firing phoenix breath directly into the cavity, such is his impact on the audience and the story. He’s the endlessly optimistic soul, giving the morbid musings a fitting counterpoint and a champion for finding joy in life.

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish earns a place alongside Toy Story 3 and the works of studio Laika for modern examples of animation that doesn’t talk down to their young audience. A lot of thought and care is put into this enriching take on the classic action-adventure treasure hunt, and it makes for a nice reminder that this is still the same franchise and studio that seared Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah into the hearts and minds of those who saw the first Shrek in cinemas.