The Best Dreamworks Villain: Why the Big Bad Wolf from “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”
Over the course of its decades-long existence, Dreamworks Animation has produced a great number of villains, especially in the Shrek series with Lord Farquard (John Lithgow), the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), and Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn). Of course, there are other instances from their other movies, such as Ralph Fiennes’ complicated Ramesses from The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Lord Shen’s crazy character from Kung Fu Panda 2. (2011).
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) is already deserving of the title of a modern animated masterpiece for its gorgeous art style, hysterical sense of humour, and unexpectedly mature themes on mortality, but the enemies that Puss (Antonio Banderas) and his friends must contend with push the sequel into a completely different tier altogether. Another positive is the diversity of the adversarial forces, which include the sympathetic Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her criminal family of the Three Bears, the power-crazed and unredeemable Big Jack Horner (John Mulaney), and one last key foe who steals the show in full.
Wagner Moura, star of the Netflix series Narcos (2015–2017), enters as “The Big Bad Wolf,” who he portrays to the nth degree. His character is everything you could possibly desire in a cinematic villain: a vicious canine “bounty hunter” that hunts Puss in Boots throughout the whole movie.
The Wolf is able to elicit a feeling that not many children’s films can – true fear and intimidation — in addition to being the focus of some fantastic creative decisions about his voice, design, and language. All of these elements come together in a third-act shock that exposes The Wolf’s actual motivations. This revelation is nothing short of spectacular and further strengthens the already superb tale of the movie. The finished product is not just the greatest villain to ever feature in a Dreamworks movie, but also one of the greatest animated villains ever.
The Last Wish’s memorable and terrifying introduction to the wolf is
Puss first encounters The Wolf after learning from the local veterinarian that he is on his ninth life and that if he passes away again, there is no turning back. While this bothers Puss, he ignores it and heads to his favourite pub to unwind and sip some milk in order to forget about his issues. A menacing, melodious whistle interrupts that effort to divert attention from the important news. A mystery hooded man, who emerges apparently out of nowhere and sits next to Puss, is the source of the whistle. The ominous guy poses as a fan, but it’s obvious that he has other intentions as he asks Puss to sign a wanted poster right next to the word “DEAD.”
Puss pulls his sword gleefully, certain that this is just another bounty hunter out to get him for a reward, but The Wolf quickly bats it away. The two engage in a duel, but Puss is consistently losing since The Wolf apparently anticipates and calculates all of his actions. When The Wolf slashes Puss’s forehead and a stream of blood flows down his face (yes, blood in a PG cartoon movie), the battle is over.
The Wolf smells the blood and becomes weirdly anxious to kill the cat, dragging his twin sickles over the floor as sparks fly in a scene that seems to have been lifted right out of a horror movie as the agonising reality that his death will be forever dawns on him. Puss is told by the frightening creature to take up his sword so he may do the job, but our hero runs instead out of terror. The Wolf might have easily pursued him right then, but if he has waited this long to kill the fabled Puss in Boots, he can wait a little bit more.
Instantly, one of the finest cinematic villains in recent memory is presented in a dramatic way.
Wagner Moura’s portrayal of The Wolf in voice acting is flawless.
We’ll return to how The Wolf contributes to The Last Wish’s story in a moment, but first we must acknowledge Wagner Moura’s outstanding performance. It’s frightening enough to give a murderous wolf Pablo Escobar’s voice, but Moura gives this character so much individuality when he could have easily been a stereotypical goon. It is clear that whatever his objective may be, he is clearly enjoying it since every word that comes out of his fanged mouth is garnished with scary charm and disturbing sarcasm. Like many of his other co-stars, Moura’s performance upholds the actor’s Hispanic ancestry, with some of his most famous lines being delivered in Spanish.
Simple yet effective character design for The Wolf
The Wolf’s design seems quite simple on paper. None of these concepts for creating a villain are very novel: a pitch-black cloak, piercing red eyes, beautiful curved swords, etc. However, the design decisions made here all simply come together to provide a distinctive look, and maybe this is just due to the excellent animation and lighting. Because they stare directly into the audience’s soul and correctly contrast with The Wolf’s white fur and black robe, those blood-red eyes work very effectively. The character’s attire and weapons also make more sense as The Wolf reveals who he actually is.
The embodiment of death is the wolf (Literally)
Puss was terrified out of his boots after his initial meeting with The Wolf, and even though our hero does mount up again (without his distinctive sword that he misplaced in the bar battle), it is obvious that the masked predator hasn’t given up the pursuit just yet. The Wolf finds a way to always be right there with Puss wherever his trip takes him. He might have easily interacted, but instead he remained silent in the shadows while continuing to whistle the ominous song with an unwavering gaze. Puss’ futile attempt to wish for extra life has the canine pursuer visibly delighted.
Eventually, the so-called bounty hunter gets up to Puss and they have another conversation during which he delivers a shocking revelation. He does not imply by saying that this Wolf is Death incarnate that he is just another regular mercenary. He has spent years watching Puss make fun of him even though he is really the spirit of Death. Puss constantly “laughing in the face of death,” treating his eight remaining lives as though they were absolutely pointless, and not nearly sufficiently seriously or urgently.
Death makes it clear that he has a personal beef with Puss, demonstrating that his animosity for the protagonist extends much beyond a dog-versus-cat superstition. Puss has frequently deceived Death, according to the primal god, by seeing each time he has foolishly died and then returned. Death is now pursuing Puss since his time has officially expired.
The idea of making Death an actual character in a movie about dealing with an impending death is amazing. Puss had spent the whole movie eluding the terrifying idea of Death, only to find that the opponent that has been stalking him really is that terrifying idea’s tangible manifestation.
Final battle between Puss and Death ends in a tie rather than a win.
A final encounter between our beloved courageous hero and the Grim Reaper occurs, and Puss is given his sword back for a true climatic combat, while Puss’s friends and foes watch from different points of the legendary Wishing Star. Death has been enjoying the pursuit up to this point, but has grown weary of the cheap novelty and is prepared to add one more notch to his sickle and move on to the next haughty feline.
Puss, on the other hand, is ready to take on the formidable foe this time around since he now has genuine pals to defend and a final life to enjoy. Like the rest of the film, the conclusion of the combat is really exciting. An amazing conclusion where Puss is finally able to maintain his composure and Death even harnesses his inner Darth Maul and merges his scythes to create a staff that is as awesome as heck.
In a moment similar to the one when Death urged Puss to take up his weapon when they first met, Puss rises to the challenge and disarms his adversary. Now that he has acknowledged that he will never actually be able to vanquish The Wolf, Puss is the one mocking Death, not out of conceit but out of mutual respect.
He merely wants to keep him at away so that he may enjoy this one life before it ultimately ends. Death’s usual calm manner has vanished for the first time, and now he is irate and frustrated, swearing in Spanish. He tells Puss, staring into his soul, that he came here to take the life of a cat that didn’t value his previous ones since he didn’t realise it now. Death promises to see Puss again, and this time, Puss will accept what destiny has in store for them. With a sudden sense of respect for the character known as Puss in Boots, Death eventually leaves, whistling that well-known melody once again as he leaves.
Despite being powerful and evil, death is not evil.
Death has all the qualities of a great foe in Puss and Boots: The Last Wish. He stands out visually, has a spooky voice, and seamlessly integrates into the plot’s already complex and subtle structure. Death’s personality does include one significant anomaly, however. I don’t think Death is genuinely “bad,” despite having personal prejudices and maybe enjoying his work a bit too much. That’s because Death views his pursuit of those who waste their lives as nothing more than a job.
Puss has, in his opinion, deceived him by eluding him at least eight times rather than giving him just one opportunity in a fair and impartial manner. Even if this is true for all cats, Puss’ attitude of indifference about their lives makes him seem evil in the face of death.
It is also evident that death has some semblance of a code of honour. Instructing Puss to get his weapon is more than just a taunt since he prefers to take down an adversary in a fair fight rather than kill an unarmed opponent. Since we only observe Death dealing with one individual, it is difficult to speak to all of his victims, but it is fair to claim that he only personally pursues those who have lived dishonourably and deserve an honourable death.
Despite the fact that the film has just recently been released, there is a lot to learn and explore about Death and the other characters in it. One missed element may turn a good movie into a fantastic one, turning the villain into a complicated, frightening, and interesting character. A captivating enemy is something that contemporary animation companies and entertainment directors in general should bear in mind for future productions (*cough* Disney *cough*). To sum up, I can’t wait to see Death again when I see Puss in Boots: The Last Wish for the inevitable second or third time, or maybe even in a future Puss in Boots sequel or the now-virtually-confirmed Shrek 5.