In a world of theatrical animation that includes the deeply emotional storytelling of Disney and Pixar and the blockbuster success of Illumination, it’s easy for a studio like Nickelodeon to get lost in the mix. It’s newest big screen entry is Rob Minkoff and Mark Koetsier's martial arts-filled Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. It’s a silly name for a very silly movie, but one that adults might find sillier than their kids, as it seems the majority of the humor is meant for them. While the characters are family friendly talking cats and dogs, the humor is, quite literally, right out of a Mel Brooks movie.
As the title Paws of Fury indicates, the primary influence behind the film is the kung fu/samurai genres. A vaguely Asian inspired village of cats is under attack from thugs trying to destroy their town. When the local samurai decides to run rather than fight, the town asks the Shogun (Mel Brooks) for help. The Shogun in turn entrusts the task of finding a new Samurai to local magistrate Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais).
But since Ika Chu is the one trying to destroy the town, as it ruins the view from his new palace, he gives the job to a recently arrested trespassing dog, Hank (Michael Cera). Since Hank came to the land of cats specifically to become a samurai, he happily accepts the job... despite having zero skills. Luckily, there’s an old-retired samurai in town, Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), who might be willing to train the young canine.
Paws Of Fury has an all star voice cast Including Samuel L. Jackson and Michelle Yeoh, but doesn’t give them much to do.
If this plot sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s awfully close to the plot of the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles. To be clear, this is no accident. Once upon a time, Paws of Fury was called Blazing Samurai because it was very intentionally conceived as an animated remake of the classic comedy. Mel Brooks has a story credit as well as lending his voice to the Shogun.
Needless to say, the kids watching Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank for the animals doing martial arts story that it is on its surface aren’t going to have this context, but adults watching the movie will likely be doing double takes as the film not only pulls the general plot, but entire gags from the live-action western comedy. Djimon Hounsou voices Sumo, the cat stand in for Blazing Saddles’ Mongo, complete with a horse punching scene just to make sure you don’t miss the connection between the productions.
The voice cast for Paws of Fury is top notch, as are most animated films these days (audiences knowing Samuel L. Jackson is in the movie might sell a few tickets). On the other hand, saving some money on the voice cast to spend it on the animation, for a film that almost certainly didn't have the budget of your average Pixar project, might have been money better spent.
The Legend Of Hank pays lip service to themes of racism, but only in the context of punchlines.
But that’s part of the strange disconnect for Paws of Fury. While watching somebody punch a horse is potentially funny outside of the Blazing Saddles reference, a lot of the verbal humor of the film seems much more geared toward the adults in the audience that are old enough to get the references.
This leaves the kids with some slapstick humor, and every imaginable joke about cats. That will still elicit laughs from viewers of all ages, but the Blazing Saddles references and the rapid fire delivery of many of the one-liners give Paws of Fury a feeling like it was meant to be an animated movie for adults that younger viewers also might enjoy – rather than the other way around.
One particular area where the movie has obviously veered in a more family friendly direction is in its themes and tone. While the fact that the movie is about a dog samurai in a town full of cats is meant to evoke the idea of a Black sheriff in a town full of racist white people, Paws of Fury doesn’t dwell on this idea too much. A couple of pointed jokes are made about the ridiculousness of judging someone based solely on what they look like are made early on, but the conflict between the two species is forgotten about fairly quickly. The movie otherwise falls into the standard tropes of the unlikely student/teacher dynamic working together to defeat the evil villain.
Paws of Fury tries so hard to be a movie that adults can enjoy with their kids, it may have forgotten to be something kids will enjoy at all.
While one would not expect an animated Nickelodeon movie to go as hard as Blazing Saddles in its satire, largely removing any overt discussion of racism ultimately leaves the movie telling the same story while not saying much of anything about anything. Instead were left with a pretty by the numbers samurai movie featuring rapid fire one-liners. Perhaps since the audience of children is new to these tropes, they'll feel more original to them.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a pleasant enough time waster for kids and adults alike, but it's not going to be nearly as memorable for a younger generation as its inspiration.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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