I spent this past week catching up on a few remaining 2022 releases for the final round of voting for the Chicago Indie Critics. (We released our nominations on Monday, and we'll be announcing our winners in a week at our awards ceremony.) The movies I caught up with this week were all ones I hadn't prioritized, for a variety of reasons, and I'm glad to say most of them left me pleasantly surprised and glad I'd taken the time. One took me completely off guard. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is so much better than it has any right to be.
I went in to Puss in Boots deeply skeptical. I'd heard the early praise, but I'm not a Shrek person at all. I wasn't happy about the runtime. I was going to get in, watch the movie so I could say I'd done it, and then get out. I managed to hang on to my skepticism for about five minutes, and then the first action sequence kicked in, and the movie had me.
Puss in Boots is still a kid's movie, to be clear. Its plot isn't much of a surprise: the hero is on top of the world; the hero meets an obstacle, which he proceeds to avoid for about fifteen minutes; the hero receives the call to adventure; the hero meets a (potentially obnoxious) cute sidekick and a host of wacky characters and a love interest; the hero learns a valuable life lesson that resolves his one gaping character flaw, which the movie has been telegraphing the entire way. The movie errs on the side of being too cute by half whenever the plot recipe calls for cuteness.
Puss in Boots gets it right by being aware of itself, and channeling that self-awareness not into cynical elbow nudges aimed at the parents in the audience, but into exuberant displays of action and emotion that tunnel into the self-awareness and manage to come out the other side with a sense of earnest truth. Puss in Boots, as the kids say, goes hard, and that hard work pays off. The action sequences are fresh, fluid, focused and over-the-top. The animators draw their primary influences not from the Shrek movies, but from the comic-book style of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and from shonen anime.
The action's fluid, with a near-Looney Tunes disdain for keeping the characters in proportion and on model; I could see Puss's face and body stretch and warp in the middle of the action, and the willingness to bend the rules of physics made me appreciate just that much more how believable the action is on screen. The character of Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas, clearly having a blast) is over-the-top, an exaggerator who's only happy when he's at the center of attention, and I wanted to give him all of mine because the movie had earned it. The movie's also aware that Puss is a blowhard and a braggart, and it isn't afraid to rub his nose in that fact. It does so both to comedic effect, as when Puss is adopted by a woman whose house is swarming with feral cats, and to raise a set of serious stakes, as when Puss finds himself down to the last of his nine lives, fighting with a wolfish personification of death.
The character work here is good, too: I could see Puss's character arc bend as soon as it began, and I was still rooting for him to follow that preordained arc anyway. I'm glad this movie came along and surprised me; if you have the time, you should give it a chance to do so as well.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is in theaters now.
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What I wrote:
For Think Christian, I looked forward to the music, movies, and TV shows coming in 2023.
For Bright Wall/Dark Room, I wrote about Phil Tippett's stop-motion silent horror masterpiece Mad God.
What I talked about:
Seeing and Believing podcast is back! After taking a hiatus for Christmas and the New Year, Kevin and I have returned with an episode celebrating our favorite movies of 2022. This one's a banger.
I also talked about some of the best music of 2022 for the Think Christian podcast, accompanied by Josh Larsen, Aarik Danielsen, and Claude Atcho.