AROUND THE WORLD WITH PERO, THE PUSS N' BOOTS
(this article originally appeared on Anime Jump.)
Like many of my most amazing adventures, this one begins in the thrift store, where a mint-in-box copy of the Nintendo Entertainment System PUSS N' BOOTS "Game Pak" awaited my feverish little hand one day. Price? One dollar. Now that's what I call VALUE.
Well, actually this story REALLY begins in 1969, when Toei Animation Company released the film that would give Toei its mascot and inspire two sequels. PUSS N' BOOTS is one of Toei's many excellent 1960s theatrical releases. Falling somewhere between the classy quasi-full animation of LITTLE NORSE PRINCE (aka HORUS, PRINCE OF THE SUN) and the wacky limited gag animation of JACK AND THE WITCH, PUSS N' BOOTS is both a retelling and an expansion of the European fairy tale about the talking cat with the surprising taste in footwear. Dubbed and released in America by American International Pictures, it became a staple of children's video for years. And with key animation by a guy named Hayao Miyazaki, it became an object of interest for those same children, now grown up and hooked on them there Japanese cartoons.
The movie begins with a bang as Pero, the talking cat in question, is sentenced to death by the Legion Of Cats for failing to kill a mouse. "I always side with the underdog," Pero nonchalantly explains. Three cat-assassins are assigned to kill Pero, and as he escapes them Pero runs headlong into Pierre, the human half of the cat-boy equation.
Pierre is being squeezed out of his inheritance by his two evil brothers. Thrown into the rain, he and Pero join forces to see the wide world. They stop in the first big medieval town and find out that Princess Rosa has been betrothed to the evil wizard Lucifer, a giant ogre with a perpetual dopey look. Pero figures this is their big chance to score, so Pierre pretends to be royalty while Pero pulls strings behind the scenes. There's lots of slick 60's Toei animation, crazy Eisenstein-style cross-cut editing, and what appears to be a trial run for the finale of LUPIN III: CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO as Pero battles Lucifer in Lucifer's castle. Now, I'm not very knowledgeable in the fairy tale department, but as near as I can tell, this isn't too far from the original story, which also featured a evil ogre and unwilling matrimony.
PUSS N' BOOTS is a entertaining hybrid between Toei's full-motion stuff and the limited animation that would become their hallmark in the 70s. The character designs are really stylized, but that only enhances the middle-ages feel of the film, which is further heightened by the use of actual medieval paintings in some scenes. The dubbing - by Peter Fernandez's Titan Studios- is zippy and fun, with Corinne Orr's "Spritle" voice in full effect. There are, however, too many songs. Though it's a slow starter, PUSS N' BOOTS's last third is a full-on actioner, the equal to any of Toei's other 60s offerings. Some of this film is downright frightening and may not be recommended for younger viewers. Thanks to Diskotek Media it was released on DVD here in the United States, in a terrific package that includes subtitles and the original trailer. Toei felt so warmly about Pero that Pero became the company's mascot, a corporate figurehead promising fun and adventure for the children of the world.
Now, there was a PUSS film in 1972, a hour-long film entitled THE RETURN OF PERO, and I've never seen it so I can't say much about it. It does feature the Wild West and it did get dubbed into English as far as I know which in this case isn't too far. However, in 1976 Toei released PUSS N'BOOTS TRAVELS AROUND THE WORLD, and that's what this column is really about.
400 years after the events of the first film, Pero is still a happy-go-lucky talking cat with mice for friends. Only in this film, he's called "Pushty". Anyway, "Pushty" is a waiter in a restaurant in a Victorian-era town full of talking animals. In this furry paradise resides the wealthy pig billionaire (yes, he actually is an actual pig) Sir Rumblehog, who posits the statement that nobody could go around the world in less than 150 days. "Pushty", Puss, Pero, whoever, calls his bluff and bets that he could circumnavigate the globe, not in a piddling 150 days, but in the unheard-of-time of 80 days. The bet is on and "Pushty" sets off in his self-designed little boat, accompanied by his hippo pal and his loyal mice. Oh yeah, and he's being pursued by the same three cat assassins, who apparently have been chasing "Pushty" for 400 years. That's job security for you. Of course this is Jules Verne's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS starring talking animals, animated with Toei's mid-70s team of slightly-better-than-TV-average animators.
Puss sets off to conquer the globe - Spain, Venice, Arabia, Hong Kong - of course followed closely by the three cat-assassins (cassassins?). Drama ensues when Rumblehog hires the evil inventor Dr. Mysterioso to stop "Pushty" with various evil mechanical devices - a drill car, a submarine, an armored aeroplane. Mysterioso, the character design of which will be lifted in toto for use as the evil genius Moriarty in the 1984 TV series FAMOUS DETECTIVE HOLMES, provides the film with some needed action. After the North Pole battle with Mysterioso's gigantic mechanical wooly mammoth (on loan from LITTLE NORSE PRINCE), it's time for Pero to have a final showdown with Rumblehog in the... clock tower. Yup, if the first PUSS movie was training for CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, then AROUND THE WORLD has to be the final exam, because this one has gear-dodging, stair-climbing, ladder-grabbing, clock-face-perching action galore. Rumblehog becomes definitely homicidal, foaming at the mouth and attempting to hack Puss to bits with an axe. When he's not attempting defenestration, that is. This is for kids? Fortunately "Pushty" foils Rumblehog, wins the contest, and sets out for another trip, again pursued by the three cat-assassins.
AROUND THE WORLD has the sort of animation you'd see in better-than-average episodes of GRANDIZER; slick, stylish, but not exactly stunning. I get the feeling that after the success of MAZINGER Z, Toei figured the kids would watch anything and the frame rates be damned. It is certainly more kinetic than the first PUSS film and while at times it feels like a retread of earlier movies like ANIMAL TREASURE ISLAND, those were great movies, so that's OK.
At any rate that bring us full circle to the wonderful Nintendo Entertainment System, because the NES game PUSS N' BOOTS is basically the story of AROUND THE WORLD. You're Pero - PERO, dang it, none of this "Pushty" nonsense- and you go around the world, dodging the evil drill cars and airships of your enemies -Sir Rumblehog and Dr. Mysterioso, or, rather, Count Gruemon and Dr. Gari-gari - who actually appear in the end of the game, which I have not reached yet because the boss of the London level is a BASTARD. It's a typical 8-bit game, full of cheesy music and the kind of graphics that were really only slightly better than your old Colecovision and bosses thrown in seemingly at random. I assure you there are no giant metal frogs in the original film. The best part about this game is the cool production art; lots of anime style illustrations of Pero's worldwide adventures highlight the instruction manual. There's even a little color poster featuring screen shots and scenes from AROUND THE WORLD. This video game was brought to us by the mysterious and enigmatic "ELECTRO BRAIN CORP and TOEI ANIMATION CO., LTD., a Premiere Animation Company Of The Orient" - at least, that's what it says on the box. It's fascinating that the success of the NES would bring us games based on 15 year old films; in Japan it would count as promotion for Toei itself, but in the States would anybody even remember the PUSS N' BOOTS films? Besides me, I mean? Somebody must have; the glorified TV commerical "Captain N: The Game Master" featured an episode based on the Puss N' Boots NES game (thanks to T.C.!)
It is an entertaining enough game, I guess. So many of the Nintendo-era video games were side-scrolling platformers that they even invented a term ("platform game") to describe them, and this game is no different; a Super Mario Brothers starring a fairy tale cat turned corporate logo travelling around the world gettin' into fights like Russell crowe. You can download it for your NES emulator. Or, you can pick it up in the thrift store for a dollar. Either way, it's an intriguing look at a fairytale cat turned animated movie star turned corporate logo.