What an odd and peculiar project “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” turns out to be. It’s an animated film that is aimed at preteens and adults rather than young children, which is a welcome change to be sure. But it also is a direct ticket to alienating a good chunk of your audience.
In a re-imagining of the button-pushing 1974 western “Blazing Saddles,” the film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck pooch named Hank (voice of Michael Cera), a canine who finds himself sent to a town full of cats. Set in Japan, the feline village is in desperate need of a hero who can protect them from a ruthless villain (voice of Ricky Gervais) who is planning an attack so massive, it will completely obliterate their peaceful existence. Wanting to learn the ways of the samurai, Hank turns to an aging and retired fighter named Jimbo (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) to train him for the job. It doesn’t go well for Hank, especially because all the residents simply hate dogs.
It’s a very basic story and is a little dull. If you’ve seen the source material, everything feels too familiar — and not in a good way. The tone of the film is also off-putting at times, with irritating self-referential gags and jokes that aren’t even mildly amusing. The filmmakers added in a string of fart jokes and bathroom humor, which seems like a forced effort to appeal to families who bring small kids (and keep them from getting too bored). The poop jokes start about two minutes in.
The voice talent (including such diverse actors as Djimon Hounsou, Mel Brooks, and George Takei) is much better than you’d expect, and the animation is quality. Especially enjoyable are the opening credits, with an original song that tells he story along with eye-catching cutout paper animation. It’s unique and pretty.
The story is dull and predictable, but the characters are cute and likable, and the messaging is positive (racism is bad / you must work together to achieve the impossible). Despite a few bumps in the road, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” introduces solid characters and is unusual enough for a mild recommendation.
By: Louisa Moore