‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ Taught Me How to Face Death

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the second installment of the Puss in Boots franchise and is definitely long overdue and one we didn’t know we needed. Like the 90s cartoon theme songs, this film did not need to go this hard, but it did. This time around instead of flying through the air and playing all the local kitties, Puss is grappling with debilitating anxiety and commitment issues, all while dealing with the impermanence of life and literally facing his demons. Who knew Puss in Boots would have me leaving the theater wanting to sort my F-ing life out?

Estan cuidado spoilers por delante / spoilers ahead

Right out of the title credits (…and we won’t get into the extended Dreamworks intro – that’s for another time) the first thing you notice is an upgrade in animation. The graphics deviate from the first film some 12 years ago. At first, you don’t know what it is. But the fast-pace comic book feel gives you a familiar heart-racing feeling. With each frame dropped you realize, it’s Into the Spider-Verse! The new look really brings the storytelling element to life and elevates the folkloric experience. Watching Puss fly through the air with his sword drawn this time around feels like it’s jumping right off the page and through the screen. Aside from the new look, the movie brings us its well-known twist on folkloric storytelling with gravitas and humor. I’m talking “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” but make it Ocean’s. Jack Horner but make it Elon Musk’s Twitter.   

Puss in Bargaining

The premise is simple. Puss (reprised by the iconic Antonio Banderas) is, of course, a household name in the thieving business. His ego is on 1000, and he’s wanted all over the land per yuushh. This time his days are numbered. While it’s true cats have nine lives, Puss has run out and is now on his last life. Knowing this he decides to retire to the grey havens where it is safe because he can no longer take the uncalculated risks he is known for. But whispers on the wind say that the location of the elusive wishing star has surfaced. The wishing star grants any wish to the person who finds it. The star fell to earth eons ago and has yet to be found. With Puss’s life on its last strand, he feels this is his chance to get his lives and his confidence back. 

The story is solid with a band of characters all going through their own bouts of anxiety, loss, a lack of belonging, and some serious control issues. Jack Horner for one, (voiced by comedian extraordinaire John Mulaney.)

Image Courtesy of Dreamworks via IMDB

Now Jack Horner is giving – sadistic repressed boy man. The unhinged need to command more than just his destiny but all those around him is due to his childhood trauma (obviously). While he was the apple of his and his fan’s eyes as a child, the pressure to keep putting thumbs in pies and the ridicule turned him into a callous monster. While he is the keeper of the map to the wishing star, he does not care who he has to off to make sure he takes ownership of that star. Throughout the story, there are several people trying to control their situations by all means necessary. Except for newcomer Perrito (voiced by Harvey Guillén), he is really just along for the ride. (More on him soon). Even Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek) who rejoins our protagonist Puss to steal her own wish. Kitty is hired to find the wishing star but obviously plans to double-cross her employer. You wonder why are Puss and Kitty not working together? You’d think she’s the one who got him to slow down and park his litter box. And she was! We learn later in the film he could not commit. (Contrary to his comment in the first Puss in Boots film).

Puss in Denial

While everyone has a right to this iron throne of the wishing star one of the people trying to change their storyline and take back control of their narrative is Goldilocks (voiced by the one and only Florence Pugh!) Goldi is running around with her adopted family – the three bears. We got Mama Bear (Oscar winning actor Olivia Coleman), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone), and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo.) They are a band of grifters, a con family if you will. Goldi is promising this wishing star is their last big job to change their lives, yet she has other ideas to get back to her “real” family. She knows her true family is out there, and she deserves to be loved by her real parents and live a normal fairytale life. When I tell you I almost cried when Goldi revealed her truth and Mama Bear, with tears in her eyes says, “if this will make you happy let’s go get your wish.” DONE. This woman said flat out you raised me, but you’re not my family – and a true mama said, your happiness is what a mama is for! My unfertilized eggs gasped. Coming to the realization of your reality and taking stock of what you have has always been a tough spot for me. Not that I am shaming my family and looking for some other family, but the idea of always looking towards the future. Being in complete disbelief that I have everything now that I need to succeed and have the life I want. What’s the saying: it’s hard to see the forest through the trees? Now, this was only the tip of the emotional iceberg in this film. 

What takes The Last Wish over the top is the introduction of Puss’s true villain. Puss doesn’t just retire when he recounts all his deaths, a character arrives ready to take Puss to his final grave. Wolf, the classic big bad arrives red-eyed and ready, wielding chained sickles with skills well beyond Puss’s abilities. Plus, he has an entrance whistle that could freeze the blood in anyone’s veins. This chills Puss to his core. This mans is terrifying. I found myself with goosebumps on my forearms every time he arrived. And I kept asking myself why? This is just a cartoon fictional character. I’m watching Antonio Banderas as a cat in boots for Bast sake! Why is this character so menacing and inescapable? Why is this so close to home? When you realize through the metaphor of is all, he is the reaper – death himself… the final chapter. The one you cannot beat. 

This is the day Puss learns the meaning of run. 

Gif Courtesy of Dreamworks via Giphy

I started to feel my heart rate rise and my breath quicken. I too have been struggling with the anxiety that comes with the thought of my final day on this earth. Death. It’s considered one of the five core fears in human existence. It’s “the fear of annihilation of ceasing to exist” –  Best Self. We cannot evade death, and for me it isn’t necessarily not knowing what is on the other side. It’s facing that big bad wolf, it’s the whistle on the wind and knowing it’s coming no matter what. Whether we go to heaven or see our loved ones once again is the self-soothing part for some. But the anxiety of the end begins with the imagination of my final moments, then I lose my breath and hot tears begin to well up and fall. It’s a wild thought that I saw this right in front of my eyes in the sweet, animated face of Puss. 

Image Courtesy of Dreamworks via IMDB

In my life, I have been searching for ways to handle the anxiety of it all. As the Virgo I am, I analyze and rationalize my thoughts until it no longer scares me, or at least until it makes more sense and I reach acceptance. Puss ran from it as if a crafty escape would provide the freedom of relief. But in inexplicable ways, that whistle would creep in and hood shadowed red eyes would show up. For me, it came in the form of the Third Rail Project’s production of Grand Paradise. In an immersive live theater experience, I was guided around a number of storylines based on the promise of eternal life. In one moment, I was thrust into my own wake. Yes, I was asked to lay down, given flowers as four box walls were formed around me and visitors invited to look upon my body. At that moment, I was given a chance to analyze my final chapter. A glimpse into my funeral did not hurl me into a massive panic attack. It was calm, it was surreal, a true out of body experience and one that didn’t have the answers sway –  but let me peer through the veil into a universe unknown. I know that sounds epic compared to the Puss in Boots storyline, but it was one and the same. Puss was given the opportunity to truly understand and know the value of life itself and the value of the only life he has left. 

Puss in Depression

Which brings me to Perrito. A small dog pretending to be a cat to make friends and get a hot meal. A loyal companion that even when cast aside finds a way to continue on and know what truly is best for those in need. An aspiring emotional support dog that teaches Puss and Kitty that running from emotions only gets you tangled in the vines. Literally, though there are a bunch of plants on his path that if you fight them become treacherous but if you let love in they give you all the support you need. Pretty on the nose if you ask me, but in moments of crisis no one really needs convoluted metaphors c’mon. He is bug-eyed and cute in unconventional ways. He has a way of cutting through the fear. He has the uncanny ability to imagine beauty, joy, and togetherness in all things. And yes, Puss in Boots gave us the quintessential TikTok of a cat with its doggie support animal, and I am here for it all.  

So, Puss is walking through this labyrinth all the while pushing down and ignoring his anxieties. When those red eyes appear in the fray, Puss is hurdled into the clutches of death. At the final stretch when we’re so close to the star, Puss blacks out! He is running, just booking it. He’s trying to get away from something he knows he cannot escape. He’s hiding, he’s hyperventilating, and the hairs on his body are standing at attention. He’s gonna lose consciousness. Perrito comes running, and even he looks frazzled. He doesn’t know what to do. He just closes his eyes and lays his head on Puss’s chest. Puss pets him as his heart rate lowers, his breath regulates, and he comes back to reality. This almost made me cry. Like Toy Story 3 levels cry. It asked the question – what do we do when we are faced with our largest fears and self-soothing is not enough?

Puss in Acceptance

The wolf came to claim Puss because his only treasure was the fact that he felt invincible. That he could just figure it all out on his own and had all the time in the world. This is the crux of his issues. He could not accept death and truly appreciate his life. We only have this one life, and we cannot spend it running from death or trying to beat it. We have to see the forest, enjoy the leaves, and see how the sun shines through the canopy. One day yes, this will fade, and all we have are the memories. People are what make life worth being alive. No matter how many lives you have.

Image Courtesy of Dreamworks via IMDB

Ahh! It’s corny AF, but I care not! Puss in Boots is a teachable moment for all of us. Because even though all of the resources in the world are at our fingertips, we still find a way to ignore our needs and think we can do it all by ourselves. Now is Puss in Boots the reason I am able to get through panic attacks? No. Therapy and meditation is gonna have to come through too. But Puss in Boots telling this stories – right now brought a new level of acknowledgment to this Sh*t we’re all going through, and honestly, I’m thankful for that. 

What a time we live in where our cartoon characters can give us the space to explore mental health and the importance of leaning on our community. All done with a double sickle wielding Judge Doom piercing eyes big bag villain. 

You can watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish streaming now on Peacock.

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  • Aisha Jordan bio: Actor, Writer, Arts Administrator. I am a movie nerd. Born and raised, action and adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, cartoon enthusiast, and aficionado. Raised by a Trekkie mom in a world of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings. Foundation in social justice theater and playing in the nerd and entertainment world.

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