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Productions in animation and in most films and shows are never as fluid and hopeful as you would like them to be. Most of the time, things will happen in the production that you will have to account for, but for films like today’s review, well, an animated film shouldn’t take a decade to get made, unless it was some kind of intensely personal passion project. It was originally announced back in 2014 and was going to be made by Arc Productions, but then that studio closed in 2016 and the film was stuck in limbo until it was revived back in 2020 by an entirely different set of producers, studios, and directors. So, with all this wait and production trouble, what’s the final result for Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank? Was the wait and troubled production worth it?
It was directed by Rob Minkoff, Chris Bailey, and Mark Koetsier, written by Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, and produced by Cinesite, Aniventures, Flying Tiger Entertainment, Align, HB Wink Animation, Brooksfilms, and GFM Animation. The story revolves around a beagle named Hank, voiced by Michael Cera. He is a dog that has been arrested for crossing the border to have a better life and to become a noble samurai. Instead of getting executed, he is sent to a small town by the warmonger Ika Chu, voiced by Ricky Gervais. When Hank arrives in the village, he finds that being a samurai isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and struggles to get the people’s trust. To help him on his way, he encounters an ex-samurai or in this case, a ronin by the name of Jimbo, voiced by Samuel Jackson. Can Hank learn the ways of the samurai via Jimbo so he can prevent Ika Chu’s evil plans from coming to realization?
So, no matter how the end product was going to be by the time it finally came out, making a family-friendly Blazing Saddles was going to be a bad idea, because it’s just not remaking or adapting a comedy, it’s adapting and loosely making a comedy based around a film that had extremely specific goals. The origins of the 70s comedy classic were all about demystifying the western that was made through the lens of Hollywood media, and constantly poking fun at how absurd and awful racists are. Translating that for a modern-day family audience was no easy task, and unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. What you get with this film is a compromised vision of it being more of a loose adaptation of the original film, but instead of humans, they use cats and dogs for the allegory. It’s a touch head-tilting when they try to translate actual jokes from the film, especially really risky ones, and when they shape it around this world of cats and dogs, the results don’t work. Now, that isn’t to say that the entire batch of jokes whether they be reinterpretations of gags from the original or made exclusive for this film don’t work. You can tell at very different points in the film, they worked extremely hard to make this comedy fly like an eagle. They go out of their way to make a ton of visual gags, dialogue gags, and physical comedy bits, and sometimes, they have one that works super well. Shockingly enough, a film that took almost over a decade or so to finally get made, doesn’t feel so pieced and patched together. It was impressive to see how creative they got at points to try and make this world work, but sadly, it is inconsistent as a result.
Not to say there wasn’t anything to like about the story, since the comedy edge gives it a fun angle to be amusing and silly, but where other films that had goofy premises like Seal Team went all of the way with their stories and settings and made them intensely entertaining experiences, this one did not. What we have here is a film that knows it’s super silly, but also has moments where it wants to have an emotional weight to its story, and the emotional weight turns into boilerplate by-the-numbers underdog hero story beats. There are some decent morals to be had with Hank’s journey, but when you try to compromise to fit a family film angle to an iconic R-rated comedy, then you can see where the pieces don’t quite fit into each place like it should. We end up with fairly one-dimensional characters that are all voiced by talented individuals who are given a script that’s as uneven as their characters’ purposes in the film. Like, look at this cast. Michael Cera, Samuel Jackson, George Takei, Mel Brooks, Michelle Yeoh, Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, and Aasif Mandvi to name a few. This sounds like it could be a real fun cinematic journey, but due to how little screen time half of these characters get, you wonder why they spent the money on getting big names. Yes, you need the celebrity names for the people who pay for the tickets and not the kids who are actually there to see the movie, but at the end of the day, you are having to make a film that everyone can enjoy. Even without the questionable point of casting big names for roles that lack meatier impressions, even the bigger names seem to be sleepwalking through it, and that’s no more clear than Ricky Gervais as the villain. First off, the villain isn’t all that well written and comes off as a ‘what if the lead from The Emperor’s New Groove was more bloodthirsty and was a middling actor?’. Gervais also just can’t act to save his life. He brings a boring performance that is stilted and has no life to it. You needed someone else with more energy and wit to make the villain more entertaining.
Animation-wise, it’s fine-looking. For a film that cost $45 mil and was being handled by what felt like 100 different animation studios, it looks like it cost that much. It’s a shame they didn’t fully commit to the more stylized comic book segments, because going the generic CGI route leaves the film looking middling. When they were able to use the 2D animation or the comic book filter on the designs, the film looked its best. Otherwise, it looks like every other CGI film out there, which is a shame. You could work with this kind of premise if you are able to do so from the very beginning. The music is fine. Bear McCreary is super talented and the opening theme that plays at the beginning of the film is great, but everything else was mostly forgettable. It’s the typical samurai and 70s-style tones that you could hear everywhere else. It’s a shame, because the film’s opening song is still named after the film’s original title of Blazing Samurai.
Overall, while this will be the target of many a roasting and hyperbolic rage baiting reviews as the worst thing of 2022 or to ever happen to humankind, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is more harmless and forgettable than downright offensive. It’s hard to be mad at it when they actually put in the effort to make the comedy funny and not just be another boilerplate experience that somehow got into theaters. With that said, there is a reason why this film is tanking in theaters and why it will probably be on Paramount+ soon. Honestly, it probably would have been a better deal for it to be on the streaming service than the theaters where it’s dying against competition from the big studios and indie releases that people should check out. If you must check it out, wait for it to show up on Paramount+. It’s a shame this project took so long to get made, went through a terrible production cycle, and then gets released to mostly meh reviews and middling box office returns, but at least it has some memorable aspects and wasn’t leaving me with thoughts of feeling like I wasted my time. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a film I have been wanting to talk about forever, but for now, I can’t say what it is.
Rating: Rent it!