Puss In Boots: The Last Wish Has Some Surprisingly Dark Inspiration

There is still a very sad and very wrong stigma that animation is just for kids. Though animation is a medium, not a genre, and it includes stories of every kind and for every kind of audience, the vast majority of mainstream studio animated movies in the U.S. tend to cater to all-audiences and take more comedic tones in order to be accessible for children.

Still, even within family-friendly boundaries, plenty of animated films manage to include more mature topics, characters, or jokes that go over kids' heads. This includes the nightmare-inducing horrors of "The Secret of Nimh" and "Watership Down," or heartbreaking movies like "The Land Before Time" (or anything by Don Bluth, really), or even the visual feast that is "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

The "Shrek" franchise is not what you would normally associate with darker or more experimental animation like the works of Don Bluth or Ralph Bakshi, but that is exactly what the team behind "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" is counting on. Rather than follow the pop-culture ladden, tongue-in-cheek, fart joke-filled tone of the previous films in the franchise, the sequel is experimenting with its animation with anime-inspired fight scenes, 2D effects, and painterly textures. The film also has some dark inspiration, which feels right for a story with bigger stakes than any film in the "Shrek" universe.

All of a sudden, there's stakes in this movie

Speaking to /Film during the Annecy Film Festival following a presentation of the first 30 minutes of the film, producer Mark Swift talked about giving the second "Puss in Boots" movie a bit of a darker edge, wanting "the invincible hero suddenly discovering fear and making a massive change in him." In order to achieve that, the film centers around Puss learning he's on his very last life. 

There's a scene near the beginning of the film where Puss fights a bounty hunter named Big Bad Wolf, and during the fight Puss is cut on his cheek, and his lives flash before his eyes. "He's never been touched by a blade," Swift said. "And when that blood trickles down, you know everything is different. He knows everything is different and fear exists in him for the first time."

Director Joel Crawford knows adding stakes to a fairy tale is neither easy nor what people expect out of a "Puss in Boots" movie, but by taking the nine lives safety net out of the film's protagonist you change the game. "We all just have one life," Crawford told us. "All of a sudden, there's stakes in this movie."

Likewise, Crawford was inspired by the works of Akia Kurosawa and Sergio Leone, because their movies, very much like "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," star larger-than-life characters "but there's a humanity that's underneath them." One of the main goals for Crawford was making sure that the audience would "get these big vistas, you get these big moments, but Puss is learning there's a subtlety in life."

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