'Paws of Fury' review: Animated samurai adventure delivers laughs in the style of Mel Brooks
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Nobody would blame you if somehow the movie “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” didn’t make a blip on your radar. The summer movie season is already packed with marquee characters like Buzz Lightyear, those pesky Minions and Superman’s dog, so a movie about an animated canine training to become a samurai might not seem like a first choice, but Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon movies have buried the lede: “Paws of Fury” is an animated remake of the Mel Brooks satire “Blazing Saddles” and even features a screenwriting credit by Richard Pryor!
Directors Rob Minkoff, Chris Bailey, and Mark Koetsier aren’t delivering R-rated style jokes though they occasionally go for the innuendo, allowing adults to chuckle while the kiddos are distracted by the adorable animals who inhabit the movie. Featuring a wide array of satirical silliness and self-referential humor, “Paws of Fury” is the biggest animated surprise of the summer and one that’ll probably fly under the radar because those Minions love taking over the spotlight. Nevertheless, those who take the plunge will be shocked by the swashbuckling, martial-arts style action and an incredible voice case that includes everyone from Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson to Michelle Yeoh and, yes, the legend himself: Mel Brooks. Plus Djimon Hounsou voices a massive cat named Sumo. Everybody wins.
Credited to several screenwriters, “Paws of Fury” is loosely inspired by the story “Blazing Samurai” which, in turn, gave the foundation for “Blazing Saddles'', and takes place in a Japan entirely populated by cats. The overseer, Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), in an effort to overthrow his arch rival, the Shogun (Brooks), sends a hapless mutt named Hank (Cera) to protect the small town of the feline infested Kakamucho, which doesn’t go over well because cats hate dogs. Determined to not let the haters weaken him, Hank procures lessons from a washed-up samurai, Jimbo (Jackson) who spends his evenings in the bottle and ingesting catnip. A training montage ensues, but Hank knows better (''Can't we just skip the part where I get good?”).
“Paws of Fury” has no problem breaking the fourth wall and inventing clever tactics to keep the spirit of Mel Brooks' signature comedy alive. The movie can never match the sheer absurdity of the R-rated 1974 classic, but it comes close. Racism is inherent in the cat/dog dynamic, curiosity kills the cats (as opposed to guns) and there’s even a hilarious, throwaway joke about peeing after eating asparagus. The animation is crisp and refined in a way that keeps most of the action light and breezy in a “Kung Fu Panda” type of way, and the voice work is top notch. In a summer undaunted with reboots, sequels and superhero flicks, leave it to a little known story about a pup named Hank trying to become the best warrior there is to leave an impression.
The laughs come fast and furry-ious.
PAWS OF FURY is now playing in theaters.