DirectorJoel Crawford, Januel Mercado
Release Date(s)2023 (February 28, 2023)
Studio(s)DreamWorks Animation (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
Many likely scoffed at the idea of yet another adventure set within the Shrek universe, or within the DreamWorks Animation milieu at all. Their nearly 50-film output—a mix of traditionally hand-drawn, stop-motion, and digital animations—has allowed the company to stretch in terms in style, but often not in terms of storytelling. Pixar, on the other hand, has continued to not only tell successful, character-driven stories, but more or less stick to one style of animation. DreamWorks often chooses simple stories with cheap humor that appeals primarily to youngsters, leaving the intellectually-minded a bit out in the cold if they’re forced to sit through it with their kids. That’s why something like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is such a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale series.
We re-enter the world of Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to find that he’s still the swarthy, heroic feline that we’ve come to know, roaming from village to village and continuing his adventures while avoiding the authorities. After an especially epic battle with an oversized monster, he wakes up to find that eight of his nine lives are now spent. Adding to his concerns is the bounty-hunting Wolf (Wagner Moura), who’s patiently waited for Puss to carelessly waste his lives and cash in by killing him. Terrified for the first time, Puss goes into hiding, finding a new companion, Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a small but hopelessly devoted and upbeat dog. He then encounters Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), who has taken up with the three bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) in the hopes of finding the mythic Wishing Star, which will grant whomever finds it whatever their heart desires most. Realizing that this is his chance, Puss goes after it himself, constantly waylaid by both Goldilocks and “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), an evil crime boss hoping to also get to the star. As Puss and Perrito outrun their aggressors, they comes across Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), Puss’ equal and former flame. They eventually bond while Puss continues to look over his shoulders for Wolf, who is always lurking in the shadows, eager to do him in.
2011 was the last time a feature film of Puss in Boots was available, leaving a very wide gap in between with a TV series that lasted a few seasons, but little impact made with the character since. It’s certainly not unusual as Pixar also eventually caved and made sequels to some of their biggest and most-respected films, many of which are now considered classics in their own right. In the case of The Last Wish, it’s a nearly 180-degree turn from its predecessor. The original film was more of what you’d expect from DreamWorks Animation with lowbrow humor and characters that have just enough substance to get you through thinly-constructed stories to hang cute characters and modern references on. The Last Wish tosses nearly all of that out the window for something deeper and more meaningful. It’s a story that not only has some teeth, in the form of scary images and occasional blood, but very human, very adult concerns and thematics. The fear of getting old and facing death is universal, and none of the characters in the DreamWorks world have ever had to do that, not to this degree. Puss is terrified by Wolf, as he should be. He’s incredibly menacing and narrow-minded with a single purpose. He’s resolute, can’t be reasoned with, and waits in the shadows for Puss to fall into his clutches. In other words, he’s a Grim Reaper of sorts, and he’s portrayed as such.
That all said, this isn’t an entirely dark and foreboding film. There’s also humor in it as well, but a lot of it comes naturally from the characters. It almost never falls into the trap of trying to be more appealing with laughs that come at the expense of the story or the characters. On the less interesting side is “Big” Jack Horner, who’s barely a villain compared to Wolf and has little to no impact on the story and is no more than a thorn in the sides of the characters during their journey. And as silly as it sounds, there’s actually a surprising amount of pathos for Goldilocks and the three bears, all of whom work as a sort of makeshift crime syndicate with Goldilocks running the show. Her journey as a character is a little bit more forced in comparison to Puss in Boots, but its nonetheless appreciated. In a lesser DreamWorks film, it would be the primary focus with less attention to detail, which isn’t a good thing.
Kitty Softpaws is a well-rounded character as well, and Perrito, a sweet-natured animal and the source of much of the comic relief, also earns his place in the story with a moment that’s so good that it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling. The key word here is “earns.” This film earns a lot of its dramatic and comedic moments without them feeling entirely put upon. Moments are set up and paid off, and a few genuine tears might even be shed, making it a far cry (no pun intended) from this franchise’s films of the past. With good performances and a painterly-style reminiscent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, you have a film that is astonishingly well-realized. For an eleven years later sequel, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is quite effective.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was digitally animated by the team at DreamWorks Animation, with overall head of layout/cinematography duties by Chris Stover. No information is available regarding its creation, but it was likely animated at 2K quality and finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate (a common practice) in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The film comes to Ultra HD graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 is the only option). The obvious advantage that the UHD has over its Blu-ray counterpart is the pixel count, but it also increases the resolution of the art style. Splashes of rich, full color permeate the film, constantly giving you something new and interesting to look at. The HDR grade improves upon this over the Blu-ray, though not in an overly dramatic way. Both presentations are quite strong, but the UHD deepens blacks, improves contrast, and handles compression much better than its 1080p counterpart. It’s a highly stylized, highly-detailed presentation that’s quite dazzling, and should be seen on the biggest screen possible.
The main audio option is English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), with optional Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus and French 5.1 Dolby Digital options. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French. The Atmos track offers a substantial surround experience with vast immersion into the world of Puss in Boots. Sound effects are crisp and the environments come to life with frequent ambience, panning, and overhead support. Dialogue exchanges are crystal clear and the musical selection and score are both robust, with particular regard to low end. You couldn’t ask for a better sound experience at home with this film.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside the Blu-ray of the film in 1080p, as well as a Digital Code on a paper insert. A slipcover is also included. The following extras can be found on each disc:
- Audio Commentary with Joel Crawford, Januel P. Mercado, Mark Swift, James Ryan, and Heidi Jo Gilbert
- The Trident (4:01)
- Deleted Scenes: Potty Break (2:10)
- Deleted Scenes: Love and Death (2:18)
- Deleted Scenes: Wall O’Snakes (3:27)
- A Cast of Characters: Puss in Boots (2:10)
- A Cast of Characters: Kitty Softpaws (1:56)
- A Cast of Characters: Perrito (1:59)
- A Cast of Characters: Goldilocks and the Bears (3:34)
- A Cast of Characters: Jack Horner (1:58)
- A Cast of Characters: Wolf (1:45)
- In the Beginning (9:12)
- Jack Horner’s Line-O-Rama (1:44)
- Fearless Hero Lyric Video (3:01)
- How to Draw the Purrfect Pawtrait: Puss in Boots (4:20)
- How to Draw the Purrfect Pawtrait: Kitty Softpaws (3:21)
- How to Draw the Purrfect Pawtrait: Perrito (4:09)
- How to Make a Paper Perrito (7:14)
- Kitty Cam (14:28)
The frustrating thing to remember about these extras is that they assume kids are watching and/or listening to them, which is true to some degree I suppose, but it’s mostly fans of the film who have a working knowledge of how extras work. That said, the audio commentary with director Joel Crawford, co-director Januel P. Mercado, producer Mark Swift, editor James Ryan, and head of story Heidi Jo Gilbert is mostly fine. After they stumble through the mistake of telling everyone to watch the film before listening to the commentary, they all watch it together, pointing out their favorite moments, but also discussing their influences, which unsurprisingly include Sergio Leone, Edgar Wright, and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. They manage to keep things light, but mildly informative. The Trident is a fun short featuring Puss recounting a previous adventure to Kitty Softpaws and Perrito in which he attempted to steal a trident from pirates, as well as expanding upon one of his deaths as seen in the film’s montage. The Deleted Scenes are all introduced by the film’s directors, but none really add much substance and it’s easy to see why they were cut. A Cast of Characters separately speaks about each of the main characters with the cast and crew. In the Beginning discusses the genesis of the project and its eventual realization. Jack Horner’s Line-O-Rama features various voiceover sessions with John Mulaney. Oddly, the How to Draw the Purrfect Pawtrait teaches you how to draw three of the main characters, despite the film being created entirely in the computer. By comparison, How to Make a Paper Perrito is a more appropriate how-to. Meanwhile, Kitty Cam features real footage of cats.
One of the most important things that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish gets right, especially since it’s eleven years removed from its predecessor, is that it’s self-contained. It doesn’t require you to have seen any of the Shrek films, nor the previous film, to get involved with it. Add to that solid characters, a gorgeous art style, humor that springs from character, exciting action sequences that make sense visually, set-ups and payoffs, actual stakes, and a more adult-leaning tone and you have a quality animated film. The 4K UHD presentation soars visually and aurally, but could use a more film fan-focused extras package. Regardless, both the film and the disc come highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons