Puss 'n Boots Review
Based upon Charles Perrault’s children’s book Le Maistre Chat, ou le Chat Botté, Pus ‘n Boots opened to Japanese theatres in 1969 to much acclaim. It was later released in the United States as The Wonderful World of Puss ‘n Boots.
The story begins with Pero, a musketeer feline on the run from the police, or something like that (more cats). His crime: rescuing mice from death. Pero manages to evade capture by taking shelter at a near by house. It’s here where he meets a boy by the name of Pierre who lives with his two older and wicked brothers. When they kick Pierre out of his home Pero tells him that he’s better off without them, that he can live a better life if he so wishes. So Pierre and Pero take to the road in search of fortune and soon enough they hear of a wonderful opportunity. The King has advertised for a man to take the hand of his daughter, Princess Rosa. Pero tries to convince Pierre that he should marry Rosa, but Pierre is nervous and not confident, coming from such a poor background. Soon Lucifer comes onto the scene and proves to the King that he has wealth and power, but when he’s frowned upon he takes action and kidnaps Rosa and takes her to his castle. Pero and Pierre have no choice now but to attempt a rescue, with the help of some unlikely friends.
In what has been a long standing tradition in animation Puss ‘n Boots tells a simple story that’s been lifted from the pages of a literary classic and puts its own little spin on the tale. Like Disney before it, Toei embarks on bringing to life another Perrault story and as such the resemblance to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (both penned by said author) is also quite apparent. Puss ‘n Boots is an amalgamation of popular fairy tales and adventure novels; in fact in general it’s incredibly influenced by some of the most revered French authors of all time. Watching this I couldn’t help but recall moments from Alexandre Dumas, père’s The Three Musketeers and Edmond Rostans’s Cyrano de Bergerac; several key scenes will automatically draw parallels and they will indeed make you wonder if the film actually has anything original of its own to contribute. Happily it does, for while Puss ‘n Boots wears its influences proudly on its sleeve it surely is a Japanese film, done in the finest tradition.
Director Kimio Yabuki acknowledges his early Disney influences and it would be almost impossible to believe otherwise. Puss ‘n Boots is filled with classic Disney archetypes, many of which require no fleshing out and as such remain as wholly flat individuals: Pierre’s wicked brothers for instance. Moreover the film features several musical accompaniments; charming little songs as sung by Pero and the princess, which ultimately brings to life this short adventure. Although Puss ‘n Boots might not match the sheer majesty of some of Disney’s finest it does retain qualities that are quite simply astounding within the animation field. Yabuki captures the world of Pero and Pierre in glorious detail; the pleasant French vistas and the scope of its surround lend toward a wonderful period set fantasy piece, filled with beautifully designed castles and quaint villages – all the more impressive when placed in Toei Scope. As with most animation Puss ‘n Boots relies on the combined efforts of key individuals. The three notable contributors here are Yoichi Kotabe (Little Norse Prince and more recently Pokemon), Yasuo Otsuka (Little Norse Price, Panda! Go Panda!, Lupin III) and Hayao Miyazaki, who would later form Studio Ghibli and take the animation world by storm. It was Miyazaki who was responsible for putting together the action and chase sequences throughout the movie and upon witnessing the climactic battle waged atop Lucifer’s castle shades of The Castle of Cagliostro - which would surface ten years later as Miyazaki’s first major film - begin to show early on. It’s all very impressive, showing plenty of energy which more than makes up for any of the standard elements contained within.
Still, Kotabe and Otsuka contribute some equally fine moments, much of which rely on nice humour and bouts of dark drama. Puss ‘n Boots is indeed a lot of fun. Dialogue is fairly rudimentary and the path that it takes is highly predictable, but it soldiers on with some charming humour throughout, even if some of that has been seen a dozen times before and since. It throws a few clichéd gags into the mix but it relies on good old fashioned comic timing to make them truly work. Certainly children will lap up many of its visual merits, and I found myself laughing a long to some of the secondary characters, such as the three cats who are pursuing Pero, one of whom is a little dim but oh so cute. You’ll find those familiar Tom & Jerry routines rearing their head from time to time and it’s simplicity of the highest order, but it’s a tried and tested formula, one that has managed to stand the test of time and still feels funny decades later. Puss ‘n Boots therefore accommodates its audience with much self-awareness and it delivers where necessary to guarantee a sure fire winner.
Being primarily designed as a children’s feature there is naturally a selection of moral lessons to be learned, along with characters that although lack fully three dimensional representation have those qualities that people can identify with. It works much in the same manner as Miyazaki’s later films in which a poor villager is taken out of his or her own environment and is placed into a far grander world where they can live their dream and prove to be the true underdog; finding strength within, achieving the most difficult tasks through determination and above all remaining honest. Pierre and Pero start off by fabricating a story so as to appease the princess, but as we soon see their lies ultimately create more problems. Again, it’s basic storytelling, but it works. Puss ‘n Boots does well to balance its overall tone and in the end, despite recycling a dozen other or so works of fiction, it still comes away as being an entertaining romp.
Discotek has released Puss ‘n Boots under the curious title of “Hayao Miyazaki Classics Collection”. Although Miyazaki’s contribution is brilliant it’s not really his film, but in terms of value this will undoubtedly appeal to those seeking to complete their Miyazaki collection and I’m guessing that’s what the company have aimed toward. It’s a nice release anyway; Discotek has done a good job in acquiring the titles that don’t get nearly as much attention overseas.
Presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 ratio, Puss ‘n Boots looks pretty damn good given its age. Aside from some obvious specks of dirt here and there and frames that look a little more worn than others, we have a pretty sharp transfer which replicates colours naturally; there’s a generally muted tone throughout. The transfer is free from artefacts and edge enhancement and the only thing bringing it down is a little shimmering and interlacing, which is likely down to how Discotek’s master copies were.
For sound we have original Japanese mono and the rare English dub for which a cast can’t be found. The Japanese track is a much clearer, while the dub lacks a certain amount of clarity. It’s not too shabby but it suffers from a little hollowness in voices, despite an overall pleasing cast. However it also contains re-recorded songs in English, which the kids might enjoy singing along to. The Japanese track offers some fine actors who suit their characters well, while Seiichiro Uno’s music, which is often lively and graceful, is punchy enough. There is also a music and effects track, which is essentially an isolated score, and very nice it is too. You can pretty much view the film as a silent movie do to its sheer simplicity.
Optional English subtitles are included and they’re also very good. Songs are translated into English, which is something of a rare thing with anime and fans will be pleased to know that they’re not dubtitles.
Photo Gallery with Rare B&W Stills
There are 41 stills here that consist of frames taken from the film. The clarity of these excellent and they’re presumably done before they were processed on film. Most of the black and white stills are duplicates of the colour ones we see.
Trailers for Puss ‘n Boots, Taro the Dragon Boy and Animal Treasure Island. Discotek has also provided optional subtitles for these, which is very nice, given that there is a lot of text and dialogue to get through.
These are the most interesting pieces on the disc. First is an interview with director Kimio Yabuki, while animator Yoichi Kotabe follows. Both offer some interesting insights into production, listing other participants, along with plenty of fondness during production.
Puss ‘n Boots may be a simple film, filled with a lot of familiar aspects, but nevertheless it’s a fun piece of work and is injected with plenty of life and humour to allow it to triumph on a satisfactory level. For those of you wishing to see everything that Miyazaki has ever worked on then this is certainly of interest and Discotek has done a great job in bringing it to a wider audience.