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Blu-ray Review: Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank

October 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Conceived as a loose remake of the classic Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (which originally had the somewhat better title Blazing Samurai) is a gonzo animated film that often boggles the mind over how it even came to be.

The result is a project that a straddles the line between not exactly great, and somehow better than it easily could have been. In fact, while it may have benefited from my low expectations, Paws of Fury is not unwatchable, and actually pretty amusing at times. It’s clearly geared towards younger kids, but has enough nods to Brooks’ original for curious older viewers as well.

The film centres around Hank (Michael Cera), a dog with aspirations of becoming a samurai who stumbles into an all-cat town that hates canines. Putting differences aside, Hank ends up training with Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a once-great samurai now battling an addiction to catnip, to protect the small village of Kakamucho from overlord Iko Chu (Ricky Gervais), who wants to annex them to expand his own territory.

Directed by Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier and Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), with a screenplay that is co-credited to Ed Stone and Nate Hopper along with the original writers of Blazing Saddles, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a slight but often surprisingly enjoyable cartoon. It doesn’t really take itself too seriously (there is a fight atop a giant jade toilet), with a meta self-awareness to it that is befitting of the film it mainly borrows from.

Mel Brooks himself (now 96 years old) returns to voice the Shogun, and Djimon Hounsou takes on the role of Sumo, a big, fat orange tabby cat who was obviously inspired by the character Mongo in Blazing Saddles. The voice work overall is appealing, with Cera being a good fit as the earnest hero, and Jackson and Gervais mostly allowed to do their thing.

The setting is an odd mix of feudal Japan and the Old West. The premise of a dog in a cat world allows the film to take on racism in its own weird way, and yeah, it’s overly broad in addressing these themes and not really that successful on a deeper level. The script mostly goes for cheap laughs with its silly puns, though there are some more clever gags and bits of visual humour as well that keep the film modestly entertaining. It’s backed by a surprisingly good musical score by Bear McReary.

The film tanked at the box office (it’s hard to tell exactly what demographic an animated riff on Blazing Saddles was intended for), though it seems destined to live on as a weird curio in the world of studio animation. Even if they don’t get all the references, kids should enjoy the story and (mostly) cute characters, and it has decent potential to gain somewhat of a following.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with a decent sampling of bonus material. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

Cool Cats and One Hot Dog (9 minutes, 2 seconds): The directors and cast members discuss the characters in the film.

In the Drawing Room with Director Rob Minkoff (19 minutes, 2 seconds): Minkoff teaches how to draw Hank and Jimbo.

Giving Voice to Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (8 minutes, 7 seconds): The directors and cast members talk about recording their roles, with some fun footage of them in the booth.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 97 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: October 18th, 2022

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