“When the first Shrek movie came out, it was pretty groundbreaking,” said Joel Crawford, co-director of Puss in Boots: The Last Wishsaid Polygon in a recent interview. “With CG, it was so impressive[with]the details that you could feel, and the audience was blown away by that pursuit of photorealism. So to, 20 years later, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish feel like a fairy tale for our time, we said, We have to push it.”
And he and co-director Januel Mercado did. Unlike the four Shrek movies and the first Puss in Boots movie, all of which take a standard approach to photorealism in lighting and design, The last wish is more stylized. The backgrounds are lush. The lighting looks less photographic and more like an impressionistic painting. The movements are more exaggerated and striking. It’s a huge departure from what audiences have come to expect from the Shrek franchise, but it was a departure the filmmakers were eager to take.
“It’s been over 10 years since the last Puss in Boots and over 20 years since the first Shrek came out,” says Mercado. “We always talk about how amazing animation technology and its visual storytelling have evolved over the years. We felt there was enough time to preserve the essence of this world and these characters, but we could take full advantage of the new technology and styles (with which) to share these stories. We didn’t want to miss that opportunity.”
Mercado and Crawford were inspired by animated projects such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, MysteriousAnd The bad guys, not only for their use of stylized animation, but for their celebration of the mediums who inspired their stories. For Spider versethose were comic books. And for The last wishthat meant fairytale illustrations.
“I remember growing up with children’s books,” says Mercado. “Especially fairytale books and illustrations, and how vivid these spreads would be, and how simple they are for children, with just simple texts and stories. But I remember as a child spending hours just looking at the drawings and the paintings and seeing all the details in the environments. (…) We wanted to do the same with the medium of film for Cat in Boots.”
“Our production designer, Nate Wragg, was really the one who helped us express our specific story,” explains Crawford. “Especially in this fairytale style. And so it was a matter of trial and error, where we look at things and go, Oh, that’s too flat and graphic, or That’s too realistic. And so it’s really a process to find it.
The animation wasn’t the only element Crawford and Mercado hoped to evolve with The last wish. After all, in 2001, Shrek was groundbreaking not only for the CG, but for the edgy humor and more mature references that inspired a shift in tone in American animation over the next decade or so. To hold Cat in Boots relevant to the 2020s, the filmmakers wanted to revisit that sharp wit, but also expand on the themes the film could address and tell a deeper story.
“With the original Shrek movies, there’s a fun play with what we know as fairy tales and Disney princesses that we love. There’s always that subversive outlook that’s clever and hilarious to experience,” says Mercado. “It’s always like, Oh man this is nice. I’ve never thought about it that way. It’s cool to turn things upside down. That was one thing we wanted to go back to and continue as part of the group. And the other side of it is also a heartfelt message and (an) emotional story to tell.”
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is currently available on demand and on DVD and Blu-ray.