Puss in Boots-The Last Wish, Review: It’s not yet the time to hang up your boots
A cat-sized cat in boots, with a cat-sized sword, taking on mighty villains and evading arrest by a Sherriff and his posse, is surely the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Just to remind you, there is a title card and a line on the posters that tells you, “This is a fairy tale”. That, technically, refers to the visual style of narrative employed by the film, which is very story-book in nature. Puss in Boots-The Last Wish is the sixth instalment in the Shrek series, and the second spin-off featuring the feline. It comes eleven years after the first one, which was released in 2011. A sequel was planned in 2012 itself, but materialised ten years later. Its India release is happening a month after its USA release. Although it has plenty of action, hundreds of flying leaps and a good dose of humour, it becomes repetitive in the second half. Nevertheless, it will hold appeal for children while adults might find it a bit overdone.
Renowned Spanish hero and legally an outlaw, Puss in Boots takes on a sleeping giant, and then hosts a party. However, in the midst of the celebration, he gets crushed by a huge bell. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself in a hospital. The doctor tending to him is a man of many professions, including a pediatrician. He tells Puss that he is almost dead. Puss cannot believe this, since he, a cat, has nine lives. But it turns out that he has used up eight of them already. The doctor suggests that he take it easy and retire from adventuring, and seek shelter with a cat-lady called Mama Luna. Puss cannot think of retirement as an option. Later, in a pub, he meets an eerie, black-hooded wolf, who gets into a duel with him, apparently to claim the bounty on his head. Puss loses and has to escape. He goes to the cat-lady’s place to seek refuge. Before entering, he buries his attire, feather, boots and his sword, outside the house of Mama Luna. Mama Luna is a black woman who has given shelter to dozens of cats, is spite of the orders that this is illegal. She takes him in. A cat-sized dog named Pedro or Perrito, who was nearly killed by his hateful siblings, makes friends with Puss, although Puss is acerbic towards him. In fact Puss is acerbic towards everybody and everything there.
‘The crime family’ of Goldilocks and the Three Bears arrive at Mama Luna’s place, searching for Puss. They are unable to find Puss there, for without his gear, Puss does not look like Puss at all. But one of the bears is able to smell out his ‘grave’. Puss overhears them speaking of the Wishing Star, a magical fallen star that hit the earth and can grant any single wish. The map of its location is going to be delivered that night to Jack Horner—not Little Jack Horner, but a man-mountain who runs a bakery, and, is, in reality, an evil collector of magical artefacts. Puss sees in the Wishing Star an opportunity to regain his lost eight lives, and heads for the Horner bakery, to steal the map. There, he unexpectedly meets his unforgiving ex-fiancée, Kitty Softpaws, whom he had deserted at the altar. She, too, is seeking the Star. Perrito, who has followed Puss, joins forces with him, and, after a several bouts of verbal sparring, Kitty agrees to hunt together with Puss and Perrito.
If you are wondering where the Spanish tag came from and why is the dialogue peppered with that language, you will have to keep wondering, for the original story-writer’s name is Giovanni Francesco Straparola, and he was Italian. Incidentally, there is a funny scene where Puss denies that he can speak English, in English, and denies that he can speak Spanish, in Spanish. Straparola is most well-known for his short story collection, The Nights of Straparola, also known as The Pleasant Nights, or The Facetious Nights, among which are considered the first (known) printed versions of a number of European fairy tales. Straparola (also known as Zoan/Zuan Francesco Straparola da Caravaggio) was active in the 1500s, introducing roughly 20 traditional fairy tales into European literature. The stories we know today first appear in recognisable forms within The Nights of Straparola. So, we are watching a character created 500 years ago, updated by Paul Fisher, Tommy Swerdlow and Tom Wheeler. Swerdlow is an actor-writer who has been writing since 1993, and has even directed a film. Wheeler worked on the first part of Puss in Boots. Not to be confused with Paul Fischer, also a screenwriter, Paul Fisher’s CV includes The Croods: A New Age and The LEGO Ninjago movie.
It was the brief of these three adults and director Joel Crawford (a story-board artist who reunites with his Croods: A New Age partner Paul Fisher) to think like children and create fairy-tale settings and characters that can engage them. They have milked the mythical belief that a cat has nine lives in an imaginative way, but a good thing is pushed too far. Likewise, the search for the Wish Star takes on epic proportions. Firstly, if a falling star were to hit the earth, as it is shown, there would be widespread disaster. Instead, what we see is the star getting invisible and appearing only to its seekers, that too in myriad forms and colours. One wonders why the messenger of death, embodied as a cold-blooded wolf, goes about his task in a roundabout way and takes ages to get to the point.
Granted this is a sequel, but the original was released over a decade ago, and the audience needs to know why Puss, the Favourite Fearless Hero of the masses, as the song in the movie goes, is wanted by the law. The Favourite Fearless Hero wakes up in hospital with only a quack doctor by his bedside, whereas one would have expected half the town to be there. A cat can leap, for sure, but here again Puss and Kitty leap so high and so many times that they become leaps of faith. Incredibly, Puss can slice of a big piece of iron armour with his minuscule sword. There is a very adult track of Puss getting cold feet on his wedding day and not showing up at the church and a lot of talk around it that might not be meaningful to kids who really dig this kind of film. Also, the entire track of the messenger of death coming in the shape of a ruthless wolf and repeatedly attacking Puss with giant sickles might not be the average Indian kid’s idea of fun.
Computer animated characters speak courtesy, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Music by Heitor Pereira goes well with the visuals. Editing by James Ryan is unevenly paced, which works well for the film, since it needs to pause and reflect before the next bunch of fast-cutting chases and encounters is unleashed. Part of the long-drawn climax could have faced the delete button, to make the film crisper than the 102 minutes it reads.
Overall, this made-for-children movie does have adult content, as detailed above, but it is the children who are likely to enjoy it much, much more. I am assessing it with my adult sensibilities, trying to put on a kiddy hat, on film-making parameters, not being swayed by the innocent charm of a fairy tale. So, if you have young children who dig fairy-tales and nursery rhymes, like Little Jack Horner and Goldilocks, and more so if they love cats, don’t go by my rating, go and watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
Rating: ** ½
(With Inputs from moviesfoundonline and filmfestivals)
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