Paws of Fury The Legend of Hank: Review
Paws of Fury The Legend of Hank Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck hound (Michael Cera) finds himself in a town full of cats who need a hero to defend them from a ruthless villain's evil plot to wipe their village off the map. With help from a reluctant trainer (Samuel L. Jackson), the underdog must assume the role of fearsome samurai and team up with the felines to save the day. The only problem is -- they all hate dogs.
After being bullied in a dog-eat-dog world, Hank undergoes an unlikely journey to become a master samurai in Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. What appears as a seemingly unremarkable animated family film possesses a surprisingly intriguing backstory. The film was initially conceived as Blazing Samurai - a reinterpretation of Mel Brooks' classic comedy Blazing Saddles (it's not every day that Mel Brooks has a screenwriting credit on an animated movie).
Following years in development hell, Paws of Fury arrives in theaters with little fanfare. Yet, under the surface of the film's generic marketing materials and inconsistent execution lies a project that boasts winning results for the family film genre. Paws of Fury successfully treads its own inspired wave-length in a humorous and self-referential underdog story.
Who would've thought a 2022 animated film would pay sincere homage to an uproarious 1974 Mel Brooks feature. Amidst the seven screenwriters with credits on the film, Paws of Fury still extracts a comedic voice sharpened by a more thoughtful perspective. The film intentionally paints a familiar narrative roadmap driven forward by a helping of contrivances. That said, the script finds every chance to satirize the cliches in its self-aware spirit.
Your typical training montages and tense fight sequences are all reimagined in a humorous comedic context. Comedic barbs mocking the film's disposable existence dawn the Mel Brooks comedic spirit with surprisingly effective results (several fourth-wall breaks and references to the film's 85-minute runtime are sprinkled throughout). Paws of Fury generates a certain moxie from its pointed comedic voice, showcasing a family film that isn't afraid to engage a typically-disinterested older audience.
Paws of Fury also works effectively as a child-friendly romp. Directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey make the most of their limited budgetary assists with a mix of alluring fight sequences and a hearty spoonful of pratfall gags. The trio's gag-a-minute approach and breathless plotting create a well-paced odyssey that knowingly sprints past its numerous cliches. The talents of a well-tailored ensemble cast additionally improve the experience. Michael Cera's timid persona and oddball comedic energy are perfect tools for the likable underdog Hank, while Samuel L. Jackson's aged samurai master, Ricky Gervias' wicked villain persona, and Mel Brooks in a cameo role serve as colorful supporting personas.
Other aspects of Paws of Fury suffer from the film's disposable design. The story here is admittedly thankless, borrowing from superior samurai stories without understanding what made those features effective in the first place. Any attempt at developing memorable characters or moments of reflection fall by the wayside as the film sprints toward the finish line. The film holds a similar thematic message as Blazing Saddles in its tale of accepting differences, although its delivery lacks much thought or nuance to say anything of note with the concept. I also can't praise the film's comedic successes without mentioning the several gags that fall flat in their over-worked design.
Paws of Fury will never be mistaken for a comedic classic, but the film mines enough inspired avenues to provide a satisfying family-friendly experience.
Paws of Fury is now playing in theaters.