Animated still from Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank

Film Review: Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank

Film Reviews

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
Directors: Rob Minkoff,  Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier

Aniventure and Brooksfilms
In Theaters 07.15

One of the most famous American westerns, The Magnificent Seven, was, of course, a remake of a Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai. It’s only fair that the favor is returned, and Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank attempts to reverse the concept.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is more or less an animated remake of Mel Brooks‘ comedy classic Blazing Saddles, with the setting changed and the characters turned into animals. In fuedal Japan, a hound dog named Hank (voiced by Arrested Development’s Michael Cera) dreams of being a samurai. When the small village of Kakamucho finds themselves being terrorized and with no hero to protect them, Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), the evil ruler of the land, sends Hank to be their samurai, knowing he will fail. Not only is Hank completely inexperienced, he’s a dog, and if there’s one thing that the cats of Kakamucho hate even more than villains, it’s dogs. Hank is determined, however, and he enlists the aid of Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a disgraced former-samurai- turned town-drunk, to train him.

Paws of Fury has been in development since 2010 and was originally titled Blazing Samurai. Originally conceived as an animated comedy for adults, the movie has gone through a lot revisions to settle somewhat uneasily into a kiddie comedy, filled with jokey references meant to placate the grownups chaperones. The mix doesn’t always work, and the gags come at such a constant rate that for every one that produces a solid chuckle, there are 28 that fall pretty flat. 

Still, there’s something fascinating about watching such a groundbreaking and subversive ’70s comedy reimagined in this way, substituting the animosity between cats and dogs for the racial commentary of the original, wherein a black sheriff is sent to protect a white town that wants nothing to do with him. Brooks, the film’s executive producer and voice of The Shogun, is able to use his irreverent, western comedy as a way to spur conversation about racism and ignorant hatred, and that’s a strength here not easily dismissed. This translates pretty simply to a portrayal of cats hating dogs because they’ve been taught to do so, because their parents and their parents did, and they don’t want to go against tradition, and being courteous or kind to a dog would make them appear weak to other cats. While that may not be a mind blowing insight to an adult, it’s quite effective an analogy that introduces kids to the systemic and cultural nature of evil ideas.

The voice cast is amusing, with Brooks himself clearly having the most fun, though Cera and Jackson throw themselves into their roles. Gervais makes the most of any opportunity to hear himself talk. The comedy is too often a mix of lowbrow humor and groan-inducing puns, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank moves quickly enough to keep kids entertained, and my nephews, ages six and three, had a lot of fun with it, which meant that I did too.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank may be a movie that you’ll want to wait and watch when it comes to Paramount+, which will likely be sooner rather than later, as it’s unlikely to provide serious competition for Minions at the box office. It is worth a look if you watch it with your kids, and I would encourage doing so. Blazing Saddles wasn’t just about politically incorrect humor, it was about using comedy to make a statement and to try to reach people, and on a markedly different level, Paws of Fury effectively follows in those cowboy-booted footsteps. –Patrick Gibbs 

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