Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films turned out to be a foundational inspiration for the creative team, along with Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns (which were also influenced by Kurosawa). Specifically, Crawford cites The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as a template—Harvey Guillén’s character, a tiny dog nicknamed Perrito who attaches himself to Puss on a big adventure, is given the label ‘The Dog with No Name’ as a nod to ‘The Man with No Name’. And his character’s narrative function was inspired by the goofy rogue Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune) from Seven Samurai. The dynamic between Puss and Perrito was also shaped by another Kurosawa and Mifune collaboration, Red Beard, in which an arrogant young doctor discovers the honor that comes with helping people thanks to the tutelage of his hardened mentor.
Obviously, Grimm fairy tales also served as a major blueprint, particularly in regards to the painterly production design and heavier themes. “What’s so interesting about that element of fear and this darker tone is you get a very rewarding rollercoaster ride because of it,” says Crawford. “It’s laughter, it’s joy, it’s fear, it’s sadness—it’s all these emotions that are this full spectrum of life.”
Fear specifically is depicted with care and authenticity. In a scene that’s resonating with the anxiety-inclined everywhere, Puss experiences a realistic panic attack about the prospect of death. It’s an innovative decision, one that hits even harder when you take his—at this point—nineteen-year character arc into account. “In Shrek 2 when Puss in Boots is introduced, he’s the superhero who doesn’t show this vulnerability," says Crawford. “Especially after conversations with Antonio Banderas, we were really excited to show the world another, more relatable, side.”