Puss In Boots: The Last Wish: The Shrek Spin-Off Gets A Spider-Verse-Inspired Makeover [Annecy]

It's been almost two decades since we first got introduced to Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots in the modern classic "Shrek 2," and more than a decade since the character broke out into his own spin-off movie, but Puss in Boots is back and better than ever.

If you think we're being sarcastic, think again. "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" is the best the franchise has ever been, at least based on the first half-hour of footage /Film saw at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Gone are the excessive pop culture references and needle drops, as well as the fart jokes — even though there is a pretty good "step on me" joke in the first few minutes.

Instead, we get a shockingly somber, reflective, and visually stunning spaghetti Western about an aging cowboy contemplating whether there is still a place for him in the world — except it's a cat that wears boots and a little hat.

An old cat with some new tricks

The opening act is essentially an extended version of what was screened at CinemaCon earlier this year (which was also shown in the trailer). We see Puss in Boots being given a rock star's welcome in a Spanish-like fantasy town, with a huge crowd gathered at a big mansion to see him sing a song all about himself, while chugging down a pint of milk. Like a good rock star, he doesn't even fully know the name of the town, yet the people love him anyway.

But just as quick as our hero is built up, he gets knocked down when he engages in a fight with a giant wreaking havoc in town. This is where "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" truly shines, with the film taking a page out of the "Into the Spider-Verse" playbook, combining 3D animation with painterly textures, 2D effects, and even playing with the framerate, dropping the animation to 12 frames a second to give the fight an out-of-time, fairy tale look. The result is absolutely stunning, and not at all what you'd expect from the "Shrek" franchise.

Director Joel Crawford and producer Mark Swift introduced the footage to an audience ready to be blown away (most of them in an age group that genuinely grew up watching the "Shrek" movies unironically), explaining that after so many years, this franchise is established enough to allow for experimentation, both in terms of story and visuals.

An old cowboy on one last mission

Indeed, as stunning as the fight sequence is, and as stylish as the rest of the film looks, it also has a surprisingly meditative and somber tone for a spin-off from the film about the ogre with a Scottish accent and lots of fart jokes. After easily defeating the giant and impressing the entire town, Puss gets accidentally killed by a huge bell that falls on him, and discovers that he's actually run out of lives — in a quite hilarious montage of death scenes kept surprisingly graphic, while still clean enough for the kids.

Of course, this is Puss we're talking about, the one in boots, even! He is not going to let death scare him. Except he is also a wanted cat, and when the bounty hunter Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura) manages to draw Puss' blood, he gets goosebumps for the first time in his lives, as all nine of them start flashing before his eyes.

There is a genuine sense of danger in Puss' fight with Wolf, with the framing, animation, color palette, and even the score evoking a truly terrifying villain. Shocked by his near-death experience, Puss actually flees, fakes his death, and goes to hide in Mama Luna's home for cats, where he has to actually act like a cat for once. It's a sad ending for a cat we've seen act heroic and full of himself for nearly 20 years, and seeing Puss grow a beard like he was an old cowboy hanging up his hat and hiding as a farmer is even a bit emotional. A spaghetti Western is not where you'd imagine this franchise going, but it is definitely a welcomed choice.

One last ride

The first act of the film ends with Florence Pugh's Goldilocks and the Three Bears busting in the house for cats, causing a big mess while looking for Puss. Their dynamic is quite fun, with Goldilocks acting as a crime boss with three huge, scary bears at her disposal, even if Olivia Colman's Mama Bear thinks of her as her adopted daughter. Puss, now going as "Pickles," overhears Goldilocks talking about wanting to hire Puss for his help in stealing a map that leads to a wishing star. Of course, Puss could really use such a wish to get his lives back, so the race is on.

DreamWorks Animation is kind of on a roll this year. While 2021 saw the release of two rather unimaginative sequels, "Spirit Untamed" and "The Boss Baby 2", this year saw the studio change their animation style with the fun caper movie "The Bad Guys." If this 30 minutes of footage is any indication, the studio may be entering a new era, with bold visual choices, and stories that offer more than childish humor, but genuine stakes.

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" hits theaters on December 21, 2022.