I’ve seen a lot of DreamWorks films in the past, and many I hold close to my own heart. Millions of now-adults had Shrek listed as one of their favourite flicks of all time at one stage or another. All of their movies are great and can be enjoyed by cinema-goers of all ages. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish however, was different. This piece is a rare example of acting, writing and animation all working together in perfect harmony. The true hook of this movie however (spoiler alert) was the relationship between Puss in Boots and my new favourite baddie, Death, the wolf. Our hero’s struggles to combat and escape this villain offer valuable lessons on how best to accept and get comfortable with our own mortality. In this article I’m going to break down each of these lessons, and what we can take from them.
Lesson One: Don’t Live Recklessly
This is one of the most “on the nose” themes of the entire movie, but it’s a very important one nonetheless. The opening sequence of this film is jaw-dropping. It has colourfully animated action sequences set to the beat of a banging opening theme. As a viewer, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. Behind the fun however, this sequence clearly sets up our protagonist’s blatant disregard to danger.
In just the opening ten minutes of the film, we see Puss break the law and get attacked by guards, ride a lit firework like a horse and whimsically take on a giant that could crush him without breaking a sweat. This scene is screaming to us that Puss has no regard for safety, and is more than happy to play with fire. Despite the seemingly jovial nature of this intro though, there are clear signs that something isn’t right here.
As many have pointed out by now, hidden within the crowd cheering on Puss in Boots’ precarious performance is none other than Death himself. Living recklessly has quite literally brought death to the cat’s doorstep, and it’s for this very same behaviour that the wolf continues to hunt him throughout the film. The lesson here is simple: Don’t give death any reason to come knocking. A lot of times, if you don’t try to bother it, it won’t try to bother you.
Lesson Two: Treat Death With Respect
A line our hero says many times throughout the film is: “Puss in Boots laughs in the face of death.” And really, he’s a man of his word. Upon Death’s first appearance in the film Puss literally chuckles at him, mistaking him for just another bounty hunter. This scene as a whole is masterful, but ultimately it shows us that Puss in Boots doesn’t take dying seriously – and Death really doesn’t like that. Puss and Death then fight, and our protagonist loses – symbolically demonstrating that underestimating death is never a good call.
Our hero does eventually prove a worthy adversary for the wolf towards the end of the film. And how does he do it? By taking Death seriously as an opponent. He fights without all of his past lives’ cockiness and comes out on top as a result. I think what the writers are trying to show here is that death isn’t something that we can ever write-off as insignificant. It’s frightening, and a difficult concept to wrap our heads around. But once we’ve taken the time to acknowledge and come to terms with it, we’ll be better equipped to deal with it.
Lesson Three: Don’t Live in Fear of Death
This one is also pretty obvious. The Last Wish demonstrates that not being appreciative of what you have and what’s around you is a sure-fire method to waste your life away. But this film also flags another, and arguably worse thing to do – live in fear of dying. Many times throughout this film, Puss in Boots is ripped from his surroundings and his experiences by his fear of death. These are shown in the hair-raising sequences where we hear the wolf’s whistle, only to see him ominously approaching in the background. Death makes consistent cameos throughout the film, and each time he arrives Puss is crippled with anxiety.
For a large part of the film, Puss’ actions are primarily driven by his fear of Death. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, self-preservation is a valuable skill to have (especially when you’re being hunted by one of the scariest cartoon villains of all time). But his quality of life is abysmal. He can’t live the adventurous life he loves, and he slowly isolates himself from his allies, Kitty and Perrito. This is irrefutably a terrible way to live, and is in no way a solution. Is dying an uncomfortable thing to think about? Yes. But living in fear of it isn’t going to change anything or make our lives any better.
So what’s the correct approach? Thankfully, the film lays it out for us pretty clearly in the narrative’s climax. Here, Puss in Boots faces Death without fear, acknowledging something very important at their fight’s conclusion: “I know I can never defeat you, Lobo. But I will never stop fighting for this life.” (Lobo meaning “wolf” in Spanish). Puss is no longer living in fear of death, but simultaneously he knows that death itself is inevitable. He is no longer afraid, but recognises and respects death’s significance, and will use that knowledge to live his final life to the fullest – as well all should.
Lesson Four: Smell the Roses
The final lesson this film has to offer on death doesn’t actually have anything to do with dying it all. It’s all about living. There’s a famous quote from Leonardo di Vinci that echoes this message perfectly: “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” People often separate life and death as two opposing forces. In reality however, they’re closely linked. And as The Last Wish shows, sometimes learning how to live well is the best thing we can do to prepare for dying.
Puss in Boots has two major fights with Death throughout the film, yet both of them have drastically different outcomes. But why? He doesn’t train or get stronger between both of these fights, so why did they end differently? The answer is because Puss has learned how to appreciate his life. In one scene Puss has to literally learn to stop and smell the roses to progress on his journey. By learning to appreciate what he has, Puss becomes ready to confront the concept of death.
This naturally sounds counterintuitive. After all, why should loving life make us more comfortable with the idea of letting it go? But the truth is that if you truly learn to love life, you will come to love every aspect of life – including its impermanence. The fact that every mortal thing is temporary makes them so much more special. And Puss realises this. He recognises that neither him nor his companions will be here forever. It is in fact their impermanence that gives them and their experiences true value in the first place. If we as viewers can grasp this lesson, I guarantee that we will all live fuller, happier lives.
A lot of people might think I’m reaching a bit here, or that I’m reading too much into a “kid’s movie”. But I guarantee you that my analysis is on the money. A Puss in Boots sequel doesn’t sound like much on paper, I’ll give you that. But in reality, this is an objectively brilliant work of art that has an important story to tell. There have been many great depictions of death in media. The portrayal in The Last Wish however, with everything it has to teach the viewer, is probably one of the best we’ll see for a long time.
As the film makes pretty clear, death is scary. There’s no getting around that. But while Death is forever in the future, you are eternally in the present. If you can live a life where you can respect the significance of dying, but are able to appreciate the fleeting nature of your experiences, you will, inevitably, be able to get along with death.