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Guillermo del Toro's affinity for refracting classic fairy tale tropes through the lens of dark fantasy cannot be understated.
His deep love of monsters, fairies, magic, curses, and mystical artifacts can be traced all the way back to his feature debut — 1992's Cronos — and tracked across his subsequent projects like The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Shape of Water, and, most recently, Netflix's Pinocchio and Cabinet of Curiosities. What can we say? The man loves his fables, especially ones set against historical backdrops and punctuated by eldritch horrors beyond the veil of human comprehension.
As such, it made a ton of sense for DreamWorks Animation to recruit the acclaimed filmmaker to play in the sandbox of the Shrek franchise, which revels in the subversion of classic fairy tales we all grew up hearing at school, before bed, and around campfires.
Two years after the release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army and three years before the rock-em-sock-em mayhem of Pacific Rim, del Toro inked a deal with the studio that would lead to the creation of Trollhunters. In addition, the writer/director agreed to consult on a number of in-production features like Puss in Boots, a 2011 spinoff centered around the titular character first introduced in Shrek 2.
Mr. del Toro ended up with an executive producer credit, as well as a small supporting role as the Commandante of the fictional Spanish town of San Ricardo (a blend of architectural elements from both Spain and del Toro's beloved Mexico).
According to a Wall Street Journal article from the time, the Oscar-winning storyteller was instrumental in conceiving the look of the town where an orphaned Puss (Antonio Banderas) grew up alongside the inventive Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Many years and one betrayal later, the estranged duo reunite for a heist to steal the fabled golden goose from the giant's castle from Jack and the Beanstalk.
Per the WSJ, del Toro wanted Dumpty — a strange living egg — to feel like "an ingenious freak of nature" and insisted on a rewrite of the ending in order to add further dimension to the character's relationship with Puss. "He has flourished by exploring the dark side," DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg told the newspaper. "He's also someone who very much is an optimist, a happy-ending guy."
"It was really a gift to the production to have him [on board]," director Chris Miller remarked during an interview with Tribute Movies. "He saw the film early on and really fell in love with it and he just asked if he could be a part of it, which we immediately said, 'Yes! When do you want to start?' And then to have him as an executive producer and a creative consultant for us...he's so positive, so supportive in that way. He'll take something good [and] he'll help make it great. He doesn't settle. It was really great. We had this guy that we all admire that was just pushing us constantly."
More than a decade later, DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures are gearing up for the wide theatrical release of a direct sequel, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, later this week. Directed by Joel Crawford (The Croods: A New Age), the follow-up finds the titular feline on a mission to restore his nine lives with the aid of a magical wishing star.
Teaming up with an old ally, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and an optimistic canine named Perrito (Harvey Guillén), Puss searches for the mystical MacGuffin — all while evading Goldilocks (Florence Pugh); the Three Bears Crime Family (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo); Jack Horner (John Mulaney); and the Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura), who also want to get their grubby hands on the star. During an interview with GoldDerby late last month, Crawford revealed that del Toro did consult on the second movie.
"We talking about that the other day, of how this idea of Puss being on his last life was such a great nugget. And that's something that resonated with me when I came on to the project," he said. "I think one of the things that really unlocked it was there's a huge story here to tell that expands not only the fun/adventure/swashbuckling of Puss in Boots, but also the depth. That kind of nugget of an idea was, 'Puss has burned through eight of his nine lives, and that's absurd. That's a perfectly kind of fairy tale premise, but when you boil it down, he has one life and we as human beings only have one life. There's something really deep and special about the opportunity to take the absurdity and put it with the reality."
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opens in theaters everywhere this Wednesday — Dec. 21. It currently holds a near-perfect score of 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising the overall aesthetic and the way in which the kid-friendly film deftly handles themes of mortality.
If you'd like to catch up on story thus far, the original Puss in Boots is now streaming on Peacock.