It has been a while since I have seen an animated film aside from the typical giants like Disney or Pixar. I did not expect to be thunderstruck by the animation style of Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank with a storyline that was very centred. I was also surprised by the background information behind this film. Apparently, this was an animated comedy loosely based on the 1974 Mel Brooks film, Blazing Saddles. That movie was known for breaking some new ground in the entertainment business.
Before the film even begins, the “prologue” opened with a musical number that provided great exposition for the world I was going to be entering. It explained the concept of how the Land of Cats was known for their cat samurais being super helpful and protecting the peace. Then, a lot of them vanished over time, and some rulers have even tried to phase them out.
From the opening title screen breaking the fourth wall with some jokes to some self-referential jokes to the film being a film being referenced to by the characters, I was impressed with the level of satire in this family animated movie. I was used to Disney’s levels of adult themes told in a “child-friendly” way, such as the theme of adolescence in Turning Red or even the concepts of dealing with loss in the recent film Lightyear. Paws of Fury took the model of Blazing Saddles’ satire of racism and simplified it to a world where Cats hated dogs—a genius notion to the stereotype that cats and dogs naturally hate one another.
The story in Paws of Fury was led by Michael Cera’s (Sausage Party) performance of Hank, who managed to bring out a similar performance to his previous hit movie, Scott Pilgrim vs The World. He played the unlucky dog, Hank, who has always dreamed of being a samurai while searching the Land of Cats for a teacher. Eventually, he stumbles upon a town that needs a samurai to defend the town from a villainous overlord—the only problem is the town hates dogs.
“Paws of Fury took the model of Blazing Saddles’ satire of racism and simplified it to a world where Cats hated dogs…”
With the help of a washed-up samurai, Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to help Hank become an underdog samurai with many hiccups and challenges along the way. While the story begins and ends with a lot of heart for Hank, the film has some steep lows in the middle section of the journey.
The quick jibs and quips from Ricky Gervais’ villain character, Ika Chu was a steady stream of jokes whenever he was on-screen. With the help of the great Star Trek man himself, George Takei also displayed his comedic chops by being an abused guard named Ohga. If you are a fan of Takei’s humour from Futurama, this was it in a more kid-friendly manner.
In contrast to Cera’s Hank moments, the comedic moments were very cheesy and did not hit as hard. This was problematic for the protagonist’s scenes not landing on the jokes. For the children, they can expect to be entertained with crazy antics from the various cat characters. The film lays heavy into the cuteness with the small, young cat named Emiko, and her big beady eyes. She also kicks ass being the daughter of Michelle Yeoh’s (Everything Everywhere All at Once) Yuki.
“The main appreciation of Paws of Fury is its ability to not take itself too seriously as the animated characters break the fourth wall with the audience throughout the whole film.”
Speaking on Yeoh, she seemed to be taking a step back in this role as she was shown to be a conservative cat mom who was really against allowing a dog in their town. Her role became weird when she appeared to be flirting with Hank, but thank goodness the film does not lean into that storyline after the one scene. It would have been too cliché of the enemies-turned-romantic-interest trope—this is not Netflix’s Bridgerton.
The main appreciation of Paws of Fury is its ability to not take itself too seriously as the animated characters break the fourth wall with the audience throughout the whole film. I thought it was an interesting addition as a joke, even when Hank and Brooks’ Shogun characters keep bringing up the runtime of the film. It worked like a double-edged sword since it made me question who this film was actually for…was it meant to be enjoyed by young adults my age or younger children?
This disparity of trying to figure out the target audience of the film plagued my mind for some reason, especially when the jokes started to become a bit morbid. Although the film has these faults, it made up for it with its great animation styles. I thought the regular animation was clean and crisp, but the flashbacks stood out the most. The flashbacks were animated in a similar artistic way to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, where the comic book dotted animation was carefully drawn.
While Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank kept its narrative and setting well-structured, it contained scenes that dragged. I think it could have reigned its story in by cutting about 10 minutes of the slow beats or extended gag humour. If you are looking for a movie to take your kids to be well-entertained with some action and some chuckling moments for yourself, there is definitely something here for you.