Some time after his adventures in The Wonderful World of Puss n'Boots (1969) Perrault the cat (voiced by Yasushi Suzuki) traded his sword and cavalier costume for a six-gun and cowboy outfit. He now lives out West, riding the range with those three hapless little cat assassins (Shun Yashiro, Isamu Tanonaka and Ado Mizumori) still hot on his heels. Perrault and Jim (Kiyoshi Komiyama), his cowardly human sidekick, drive a stagecoach bringing a sweet young girl named Annie (Karumi Kobato) to the lawless Go-Go Town only to find her papa shot dead in a bar brawl. Devastated but defiant, Annie vows to realize papa's dream of opening a restaurant even though this puts her at odds with the man responsible for his murder: the venomous Boss (Ushio Shima). With the whole town terrified or else riddled with corruption, brave Perrault steps up to protect Annie from Boss' gun-toting goons, even though he is out-gunned and out of his depth.
The first Puss n'Boots was such a huge hit the title character (named after French fairytale author: Charles Perrault, though most English subtitles credit him as 'Pero') became the studio emblem for Toei Animation. And remains so to this day. Three years later Toei released a sequel that, although lively and fun, proves notably less dynamic and lavishly animated than its predecessor. While the title implies a feisty feline take on Alexandre Dumas (there is actually a very good anime film of The Three Musketeers (1987)) the plot inexplicably relocates Perrault to the American West. Complete with thematic allusions to John Ford (specifically: Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)), Roy Rogers serials, spaghetti westerns (the villain resembles Lee Van Cleef while Seichiro Uno's core features twangy guitar stings akin to Ennio Morricone), High Noon (1952) and Cat Ballou (1965). The film features a stock western plot (big shot tries to run all the decent folk out of town and steal their land, prompting a small band of brave heroes to take a moral stand) that, reflecting an ideological shift in Seventies cinema (yes, even in Japanese children's entertainment), replaces the heady fairytale aspirations of the original with more modest goals of survival and financial stability. Yet in a neat allusion to broader themes prevalent in classic westerns, the Boss recognizes Annie's restaurant as the first step towards civilizing the West thus ending his lawless reign. Which admit it, is very John Ford.
Taking the helm this time was Tomoharu Katsumata an animator who, while neither a household name like Hayao Miyazaki nor cult figure like Katsuhiro Otomo, remains for discerning anime fans a feted auteur. He went on to a run of acclaimed anime, including Mazinger Z vs. Devilman (1973), The Little Mermaid (1975) (easily the most affecting, albeit harrowing adaptation of the well-known fairytale), Farewell Space Battleship Yamato (1978), Be Forever Yamato (1980), Arcadia of My Youth (1982), Future War 198X (1982), Prince of the Snow Country (1985) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1992). Katsumata infuses an otherwise cute and cuddly anthropomorphic yarn with the same grit and vigour he brought to his later science fiction films. Indeed, as with a lot of Seventies anime, Three Musketeers in Boots is pretty dark for a children's film. Slapstick animal antics are interwoven with scenes of violence, cruelty, sadism and despair. Naturally kids ate it up. Even so, today some fans take issue with the film's new take on Perrault. He still exhibits all of the pluck, wit and deductive reasoning from Wonderful World of Puss n'Boots only here proves easily intimidated and outmatched by hulking human outlaws. The big twist that unmasks one supporting character as an undercover badass with lightning fast gun skills has the unfortunate effect of side-lining poor Perrault as klutzy comedy relief. He brings almost nothing to the big finale and towards the closing scene is even forgotten by Annie in a strangely melancholy coda. Set against beautifully expansive backgrounds the animation is a little simpler with a gloomier colour palette befitting the darker story. However Yasuji Mori's distinctive chara designs retain their charm. Perrault would return in the superior second sequel Puss n'Boots Travels Around the World in 80 Days (1976).