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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Amplifies an Important Aspect of the Shrek Series

CBR 3/29/2023 Ben Bishop
© Provided by CBR

2022 was a shockingly great year for animated features, with things like Turning Red kicking off the year and the stunning performance of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish rounding it out. This latter feature stunned fans not only because of its animation, which was beautiful and unique, borrowing from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but because it had a good narrative. It was heartfelt, deconstructive and smart. What's more, it was subversive of a number of tropes common to fantasy stories and fairy tales.

Though many stories manage this, The Last Wish did it so brilliantly that it earned a spot among some of the most iconic animated features of all time. In fact, its Rotten Tomatoes score beat out Puss in Boots (2011) by nine percentage points and the next-highest Shrek movie, Shrek 2, by six. That is because its story reverts to the central theme of the original Shrek: the inversion of storytelling tropes and the subversion of fantasy to create a tale well worth telling.

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Puss in Boots 2 Follows Shrek's Example

For all its memeability, Shrek is far from easy to make fun of. At its core, it's a found family film about hated and abused people seeking meaning and love in the world. What's more, it's not end-capped with a beast or crone becoming a beautiful person, but with a cynic gaining hope and Fiona turning into an ogre, realizing that this is the beauty she'd longed for. Lord Farquaad wasn't great or a good warrior but an abusive man with enough money to exploit others. It's a takedown of multiple fairy tale tropes, from a kind dragon to a less-than-noble steed in Donkey.

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And The Last Wish follows this tradition to great effect. Where Shrek was made to subvert fairytale tropes, Puss in Boots takes aim at broader fantasy. Specifically, The Last Wish subverts expectations of a hero and manages to turn the "Hero's Journey" monomyth on its head, with nearly every step in the traditional cycle being turned on its head. For example, in the traditional quest narrative, the hero is unwilling to begin their adventure until they get pulled into the fray. But with The Last Wish, when this happens, it's after Puss has done the exact opposite. He is all too willing to go on adventures until he realizes that his legend -- his myth -- is at stake. That carries through until the end, wherein instead of returning "with the potion," meaning finishing the story successfully, Puss ends his journey with nothing to show for it. That breaks the traditional Hero's Journey narrative, even as the story draws to a happy conclusion.

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The Last Wish Manages Realism and a Fantastic No-Win Story

The happy conclusion for Puss and Co. effectively follows a no-win situation. The group draws closer, but the writing is on the wall for Puss. His legend is effectively over, as he is now just a cat. That's shown throughout the story with Puss having a panic attack or feeling regretful, things a traditional monomythic hero doesn't do. What's more, Puss accepting death but fighting for his life shows an existential growth of character that only works in a no-win situation and not with narrative deflation that would take place with him regaining his lives.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a careful and measured narrative, even as its place in the Shrek franchise would suggest otherwise. It's beautifully animated, and that should not be forgotten. However, its story takes advantage of storytelling tropes and subverts them like its predecessors, heralding its place as one of the greatest of the Shrek franchise.

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