Confronting Mortality in a Children’s Movie


Pulled from DreamWorks Website

Article by Ren Topping, Editor-in-chief

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Puss in Boots appears to be an utterly playful character. The boot-wearing, rapier-touting, Spanish-speaking anthropomorphic orange tabby was initially a side character in Shrek 2 (2004). He would seem to make for a colorful adventure, a simple entertainment that would be a hit with kids, but lack the substance of meaningful cinema. Yet the movie Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) slashes that trope of animated movies to shreds. While the sequel to the 2011 animated film remains a bustling adventure populated by familiar fairy-tale characters such as Goldilocks and Little Jack Horner, at its core, The Last Wish is a story of one cat’s journey to accepting his inevitable death.

The Last Wish begins in the swashbuckling fashion that typifies Puss in Boots. Voiced by Antonio Banderas, Puss escapes from an enraged governor and fends off a giant, dancing around danger through sheer force of charisma. For The Last Wish, the production company Dreamworks shifted away from the computer-animation style popularized by Pixar and opted for one that blends 3D elements with 2D pastels (think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). The result is a screen that bursts with enough color to match Puss’s personality.

The opening of the movie illustrates this energy well: Ultimately unchallenged by the giant and his legal pursuers, the first scene ends when Puss is crushed by a falling bell. For a cat with nine lives, death is no problem, but Puss is down to his final life, and with it comes a new sensation: fear. Fear of death, fear of danger, and therefore fear of adventure. Puss loses what makes him Puss in Boots. And to make matters worse, he begins to be haunted by the embodiment of death, a large wolf who wields dual gleaming scythes. Sufficiently frightened, Puss decides that he values his life more than his adventures and resigns himself to monotony in an overcrowded retirement home for cats. 

The Last Wish presents a complete reversal of character in the face of death. The once fearless Puss in Boots is reduced to being called “Pickles.” In reality, Puss has only descended from his mythical status to the circumstances afforded to all other people (and cats): a single chance at a single life. The only thing that reinvigorates Puss is the promise of the “Wishing Star” and the opportunity to restore his nine lives. Learning of its existence, he sets off in a hurry, hoping to nab the map that leads to the star. While Puss’s heist is a success, he must reluctantly partner with Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek), his love interest in the original film, and Perrito (voiced by Harvey Guillén), a dog who masqueraded as a cat in the retirement home and is determined to make Puss his friend. 

Act two of The Last Wish serves up much of the adventure that Puss in Boots is known for. The film takes full advantage of its animation style, setting the trio’s journey in a vibrant forest that can transform into a deadly obstacle or make way for a beautiful landscape. What is most apparent though, is Puss’s ever-present fear and his need for support. In a fight, Kitty protects Puss from danger, and when he cowers from a sighting of the Wolf, Perrito comforts Puss back to composure. As the viewer becomes more attached to Kitty and Perrito, so too does Puss.

Pulled from DreamWorks Website

Their journey comes to a conclusion upon the Wishing Star where Puss faces a choice: make his wish and return to a life of carefree adventure, or continue with the life he has, the one with Kitty and Perrito. Confronted by the Wolf one more time, Puss realizes that his fear of death doesn’t make his final life undesirable, but the knowledge that his life is limited is what makes each experience special. He charges at the Wolf head on, free of fear not because he has nine lives to fall back on, but because he knows fear is what will prevent him from truly living. 

For a children’s movie, the topic of mortality may not seem appropriate, but it is the result of Puss’s struggle to accept death that will resonate with younger audiences. By choosing to keep his sole life, Puss embraces his friends and loved ones, replacing fear with hope, individualism with camaraderie. 

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has been nominated for best Animated Feature Film at the 2023 Academy Awards. The Oscars ceremony will be broadcast Monday morning, March 13, Japan time.