Wednesday 30 August 2023

Toei's Puss 'n Boots

Before Antonio Banderas put his accent on the character, perhaps the most internationally renowned version of Puss 'n Boots was the animated character from Toei studios. So popular was little Pero and the three films to feature him that he became the corporate logo for the company.

Trailer for The Wonderful World of Puss 'n Boots.

Pero is named for Charles Perrault, who provided the source material to be embellished in The Wonderful World of Puss 'n Boots (1969). In the Mediaeval fantasy world of the fairy tales, Pero has been expelled from the Kingdom of the Cats for having let some mice escape his grasp. Making his way in the world of humans, he comes across a young boy Pierre and conspires to help him improve his lot in life. The oportunity arises when the king itches to give away his daughter's hand in marriage. This Puss 'n Boots is just as crafty as his literary equivalent, but a wrench is thrown into the works by the princess' other suitor: the nearly all-powerful, shape-changing Lucifer. Nor does it help that a trio of hapless hunters have trailed Pero from the Kingdom of the Cats.

Puss 'n Boots was the 15th of Toei's stellar animated films and featured some of the early work of Hayao Miyazaki. The endurance of the film is testified to by Pero becoming Toei's mascot, a Mickey Mouse for the "Disney of Japan", and it begged a pair of sequels of a sort. The next in the series was Return of Pero in 1972. Instead of fairyland, the action is here transplanted to the Old West.

Pero and his friend Jimmy arrive into town aboard a stagecoach that also brings the daughter of a saloon owner. Unfortunately she returns just in time to see her father lying on the floor of his saloon in a puddle of his own blood, clutching a Mexican peso. With that as their only clue and Jimmy taking up the vacated mantle of town sheriff, Puss 'n Cowboy Boots brings this outlaw band of counterfeiters to justice.

As the Sixties transitioned into the Seventies, cost-saving measures hit Toei and the quality of Return of Pero is not to the same level as the original. This trend would continue into 1976 with the third and final Pero film, Puss 'n Boots Travels Around the World in 80 Days.

Full English dub of Puss 'n Boots Travels Around the World in 80 Days.

In this episode, Pero is still on the outs with the Kingdom of Cats thanks to his pro-mouse political views. As a consequence, he has taken up residence in a version of the 19th century populated by anthropomorphic animals. While working as a waiter in a cafe, Pero offends the wealthy Mr. Gourmon (a massive pig) by suggesting that a person could circumnavigate the globe in a mere 80 days. They put it to a bet: if Pero can accomplish this task then he gets all of Gourmon's estate, and if he does not then he becomes Gourmon's slave for life. Puss' trio of pursuers are back again, and if that weren't enough, Gourmon has an ace up his sleeve in the form of Dr. Garigari, a Professor Fate-like mad inventor.

Despite the drop in animation quality, Around the World in 80 Days is much more fun than Return of Pero. Most of that has to do with the caper-style chase involving all manner of conveyance. First Pero goes from a little paddlewheel steamer to a horseless carriage, and from that to a balloon, then to a submarine, a windwagon, and an aeroplane. Dr. Garigari gives chase in a drill-tank-thing, a much larger submarine, and even a giant, robotic woolly mammoth. The race takes us across the Garabian desert, into Pindia and Pong Kong, under the seas in the vicinity of a lost civilization, and to America's Minikiki River. Here can be heard definite echoes of 1956's Around the World in 80 Days and 1965's The Great Race.

Though having gone for far too long in the West without a widespread release, Toei's Puss 'n Boots is an enduring and loveable furball whose exploits are worth finding in one way or another.

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