It’s been more than 20 years since the original Shrek hit theaters, so it’s no real surprise that its continuing series of spinoffs and followups is evolving, visually and narratively, away from their original style. But it is a little surprising to see their latest direction. The trailer for the latest Shrek spinoff, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, starts off with the usual CG look that’s become familiar over several Puss in Boots outings, including the direct-to-video sequel The Three Diablos, the Netflix interactive movie Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, and the 2015 TV series The Adventures of Puss in Boots.
Then suddenly, the frame rate changes and the action becomes staccato, as if it was being filtered through a strobe light. The backgrounds disappear into a blur of anime-style motion lines, and the colors go flat, with a backlit effect that makes the characters pop against the bright, simple backgrounds. Yup, it looks like another animation team is following in the footsteps of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, incorporating a sense of anime stylization and 2D comic book art into a series previously known for its glossy 3D look.
Animation directors have been talking a lot lately about “fighting the computer” to make more stylized and visually idiosyncratic movies. Ever since Pixar basically nailed photorealistic computer animation with 2015’s The Good Dinosaur, animators have been pulling in the opposite direction, working to make animated features more cartoony, expressive, and playful, as seen this year in films like Turning Red and The Bad Guys. (The wolf character in this Puss in Boots trailer is nearly a dead ringer for The Bad Guys’ Mr. Wolf.) 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with its endless visual and narrative experiments, went much further into stylization than most, and earned critical raves and a Best Animated Feature Academy Award.
It was inevitable that we’d see other animators trying some of Spider-Verse’s visual tricks, but because of the yearslong production times involved in animation, the rollout of those first visual homages has been relatively slow. Seeing this style in the latest Shrek spinoff is particularly odd, though, given how well-established that franchise’s look has become over the past two decades.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish once again stars Antonio Banderas as the title cat, a show-offy swashbuckler who retires after he realizes he’s down to the last of his nine lives. When he learns about a “mythical Wishing Star” that might restore his lives, he teams up with old nemesis Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) and a yappy dog named Perrito (What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillén) to seek the star. Florence Pugh, John Mulaney, and Wagner Moura co-star as some of the villains coming after the trio.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish premieres in theaters on Dec. 21, with DreamWorks promising “early sneak peeks” in some markets on Nov. 26.