With a nod to the original Brothers Grimm illustrations, the film’s senior creative team, led by Joel Crawford and Mark Swift, wowed the crowd with extensive sneak peek footage while walking through the touching and hilarious story of our favorite fearless feline hero’s return to cinemas this coming December.
It’s been over a decade since Shrek fans saw their favorite furry outlaw on the big screen. But Puss is back in theaters December 21 in DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming feature film, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, centering around PiB’s mission to gain back the eight out of nine lives he’s lost.
The studio shared the film’s story and extensive first footage during its Annecy 2022 presentation, featuring DreamWorks Animation president Margie Cohn, the film’s director Joel Crawford, co-director Januel Mercado, producer Mark Swift, production designer Nate Wragg and head of story Heidi Jo Gilbert. AWN got the chance to speak with Crawford (The Croods: A New Age), Swift (Penguins of Madagascar) and Wragg (Puss in Boots) about returning to the Shrek universe with a new visual palette and CG tools providing creative freedoms not previously possible.
“Shrek was one of the first movies that came out in CG, a very early pioneer, and it set a tone and a look partly based on what could they do at the time,” says Swift. “The fact now is there are a lot more tricks. There are a lot more tools. There's a lot better software. We were able to go back in and give the world a new paint-over without losing this cat that we love. Trying to walk that balance of giving it a new look, a painterly look, something that we know from fairy tales, but still not edging the audience out from what they know, that was the line we were going for.”
Crawford adds, “What's been a cool discovery for us is that, by making things more fantastical, more stylized, it's allowed us to approach some darker material, but in a very accessible way for a broad audience.”
In this latest story, Puss (Antonio Banderas) discovers that his passion for peril and disregard for danger has led him to the last of his nine lives. Now, in order to get back what he’s lost, Puss journeys to the Black Forest to find the mythical Wishing Star and restore his lost lives. And, hanging on the last of his lives, Puss seeks support from his former partner and nemesis Kitty Soft Paws (Salma Hayek) as well as aid from a ratty, chatty, relentlessly cheerful mutt, Perro (Harvey Guillén) who Puss and Paws meet on their quest.
Together, the trio of heroes will have to stay one step ahead of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears Crime Family, “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), and bounty hunter, The Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura).
Check out the trailer:
The movie’s aesthetic pays fabulous homage to the original illustrations of the fairytales with which the Shrek universe built its world of parody. “The thing that excited us all about going back to the source of using fairytales and fairytale illustrations as an inspiration was giving it a modern take on that fairytale aesthetic that could allow us to be even more artistic in different ways and offer different experiences for the characters to have in the film,” says Wragg. “We can have a scene, like with The Big Bad Wolf, that can feel really intense and realistic, but is still wildly painterly, and allows us to drop all of the background and go to a wash of red, to really make a bold artistic statement, but also one that really supports what the character is encountering in that moment in the film.”
Crawford says the team looked to the original illustrations of Brothers Grimm for inspiration, a style that also lent itself well to the more sobering subject of an otherwise hysterical movie.
“It goes hand-in-hand with this very high-stakes story, which kicks off with Puss in Boots being on his last life,” the director explains. “And as ridiculous as that kicks off to be, that cats have nine lives, at its root, it is about Puss being afraid of mortality. That has been an awesome opportunity to take to the audience and let them relate to this. We all have one life. What are you going to do with it?”
The director continues, “Being so stylized and painterly is a way to approach the material where it's still entertaining, could be funny, could be a big adventure. But, at the same time, we're looking forward to it being a celebration of life.”
For Crawford, Swift and Wragg, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a story that, they hope, will draw a broader audience than one might expect with a DreamWorks production often geared toward youth.
“One of our goals is we want kids to be able to go to this, but we don't want it to be a kid's movie,” says Swift. “It's a family movie.”
And, according to Crawford, it’s also a celebration of how far CG animation has come since Puss in Boots made his first appearance in Shrek 2 back in 2004.
“When CG got started, we transitioned out of either hand-drawn or stop-motion - CG was this new way of filmmaking, and we were limited in what we were actually able to put up onto the big screen,” says Crawford. “So, I think in a lot of ways, now that our tools have advanced to let us return to old filmmaking styles that we all loved, whether it was something more tactile or something more artistic, we're now able to put that into a CG film. It's an experience that feels new for audiences, but also feels nostalgic because we've done these types of things before, just not in a CG world. It's nice that the CG world is less about, ‘Oh, look how real that puddle is,’ and more like, ‘Look at this new artistic experience that I had never even thought was possible, but now I'm completely immersed in.’”