How ‘Puss In Boots’ Handles Death is Brilliant – ScreenHub Entertainment


When it comes to family films, one of the most difficult things to do is deal with heavy topics. Some don’t bother trying, and those that walk the tightrope of providing important lessons for their young audience or scarring them for life. Puss In Boots: The Last Wish deals with perhaps the most difficult topic a film like this can, the topic of death itself. Not the loss of a loved one like say Bambi or Lion King, but the inevitable death of its protagonist. Such a topic is not easy to deal with whether you’re young or old, which is why it’s so shocking that the latest film in the Shrek franchise handles it so well.

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish has a simple enough premise. The titular hero is down to his last life, having wasted eight of his nine lives on reckless and sometimes selfish choices. After an attack by an apparent bounty unsettles him, Puss falls into an existential depression, eventually setting out on a quest to find a fabled ‘Wishing Star’ which only has one wish remaining. Puss plans to use the Wish to restore his lost lives, and sets out to reach the wishing star while fighting his way through a slew of villains and challenges. On the surface, this may appear a colorful, imaginative family film. Puss In Boots certainly is that, but the way it deals with death is honest and real, following the lead character through his existential depression until he learns to embrace life again.

Death is represented in a sickle-wielding red-eyed wolf. The hero first encounters death in a tavern while in denial about his mortality. Death gives him a rude awakening, landing the first blow to ever hit the fabled outlaw and drawing blood. With the grim knowledge that the previous fight could have ended him, Puss abandons his persona and sinks into a depression, moving in with a ‘cat lady’ and gorging himself on cat food. It’s a cat’s take on the outlaw past his prime trope. It’s cute, but also a very real portrayal of the difficult time many have to confront their own mortality.

What’s interesting is Death is not the main villain of the story. Whenever Death appears, Puss opts out of a direct confrontation, instead fleeing from his adversary as quickly as possible. One of the film’s most pivotal scenes is when Puss meets his past lives, who all have the same cocky, arrogant, and at times cruel personalities. This unappealing look at the past leads to another confrontation with Death. The spectral wolf reveals his dislike for Puss comes not from general cruelty, but his disgust at Puss’ disregard for life. He criticizes the hero for wasting eight lives while everyone else only has one to spare. This pivotal scene establishes Death is not the real problem for Puss, but rather his own vices.

Puss’ journey to outrun death brings him in contact with a number of colorful characters, all offering their own perspectives. One such character is Kitty Softpaws, an old flame Puss left at the alter during his daredevil days. Kitty is a fun, femme fatale who serves as a foil for Puss, but also is more important. Apart from Death, Kitty is the only other character Puss is running from. She’s fully fleshed out with personality and drive, but also a representation of every chance Puss wasted in his life. She forces him to confront all his bygone opportunities and offers him a chance at atonement, but still stands her ground. She makes it clear if he doesn’t change, she’ll walk.

Another important character on this journey is Perrito. A naïve and happy therapy dog, Perrito on the surface seems like nothing more than obnoxious comic relief, but the character is actually the smartest in the film. He talks about how he was abandoned by his family, but takes it in stride and decides to embrace life. His attitude also helps the characters earlier on in their journey to the Wishing Star, his outlook changing the world around them to one centered around embracing life’s pleasures both big and small. Perrito gives a voice to the film’s philosophy of only having one life isn’t a bad thing, so long as that one life is worth it.

[Credit: Dreamworks]

The finale of the film takes place at the Wishing Star, where Puss is forced to confront his mortality in a duel with the Grim Reaper. Death challenged Puss to a fight, a fight that ends in a stalemate. Puss is unable to defeat Death because no one can. He instead accepts he can’t win, challenging, embracing that he still has one life left and he plans to make good on it, mending things with Kitty and trying to live less selfishly. Seeing this, Death decides to walk away, telling Puss to live his life while promising to return someday. Puss accepts the promise without fear, content to spend his last life well while he has it.

The film ends with no one getting the fabled last wish, Puss instead opting to destroy it in order to save the lives of his friends. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to allow Puss to get his wish and hit the reset button on his life (or lives), but real life doesn’t work that way. Instead, the film is honest. Accepting that the road ends, Puss sets out to make his final life the best he possibly can. Death is inevitable, each moment brings us closer, and life can still be great.

Now, some will undoubtedly read the above article, roll their eyes and say, it’s a movie about a cartoon outlaw with a sword. Aren’t you taking this a little seriously? Perhaps, but as someone currently coming to grips with their own agnosticism and the possibility of no afterlife, I can personally say that Puss In Boots: The Last Wish is a very accurate look at all the stages someone on such a journey may go through. Puss In Boots: The Last Wish deals with a universal truth most people don’t want to think about, and despite dealing with them in a colorful, entertaining way, it remains honest through it all. In my book, that’s something to appreciate.

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