Dropping on home video from Paramount Pictures is animated family adventure-comedy “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.”

Originally titled Blazing Samurai, the Paramount Animation family film Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank released in theaters July of 2022, an anthropomorphic take on the Mel Brooks-directed comedy classic Blazing Saddles (1974). Loaded top to bottom with star talent, Paws should be a slam-dunk with audiences, offering the familiarity of DreamWorks Animations’s Kung Fu Panda series while employing the comedic flavor of the original source material. Strangely, it’s a far more neutered affair, providing jokes that will entertain the young’uns just fine but leave the adults feeling like they’ve been poked in the ribs by an incessant “did you get that reference?” verbal elbow. In the end, Paws of Fury is a great entry point for potential Mel Brooks fans, because if they like this, they’ll love where it came from.

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Front-Back: Kylie Kuioka as Emiko and Michelle Yeoh as Yuki in PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure.

Set in feudal Japan, the feline residents of Kakamucho aren’t aware that local leader Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais) wants to demolish their town in order to expand his palace. When he’s ordered by the Shogun (voiced by Mel Brooks) to designate Kakamucho with a new samurai to protect them, he decides to send them a new prisoner named Hank (voiced by Michael Cera), a young pup in search of a master to train him. Ika Chu thinks the residents of Kakmucho will execute Hank for him, setting into motion a legal way to remove the town, but what he doesn’t expect is for Hank to show promise or for a washed-up samurai named Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) to take Hank on as a student.

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L-R: Michael Cera as Hank and Samuel L. Jackson as Jimbo in PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure.

As a fan of Mel Brooks’s comedic tales from an early age (aren’t most Jews?), the idea of turning Saddles into an animated tale for kids, well, the humor’s already juvenile but it’s also an adult crass. So how do you do that? Screenwriters Ed Stone (Happy, Texas) and first-time writer Nate Hooper switched up the period and location (old west for feudal Japan), they replaced the racial elements for species conflicts (cats vs. dogs), and then swapped a lot of the older jokes or scenes for more age-appropriate content and way more puns (might just include the longest game of telephone ever). For the most part, this works to the advantage of the storytellers to the point that any audience who wasn’t familiar with Saddles wouldn’t have a clue of the connection. I say this with a great deal of confidence as any time I rolled my eyes at the changes, my eldest giggled loudly (the target audience). I do think he’s more likely to remember a giant jade toilet bowl overflowing more than the racial elements of the story after it finished, but it would serve for a solid starting point had we not already begun these conversations with him. Add in that Cera’s presentation of Hank and Jackson’s of Jimbo produce genuine interest in their characters, plus a few sight gags that are straight-up applaud-worthy, a certain rewatchablilty comes up.

Where I think the film falters a bit is two-fold, and neither are super critical, but are nevertheless worth mentioning. The first is that the narrative is not as smooth as the source material, such as an interpersonal conflict arising for the sake of conflict whereas the original didn’t. Granted, with so much needing to be cut or adjusted (for obvious reasons there’s no Lili Von Shtüpp-type character), something *had* to change, not to mention the need to adjust the total narrative for a different medium and audience, but the flow feels off. Without awareness of the source material, any sense of a flow issue may disappear and allow the audience to just run with things. The second issue is the use of a food allergy as a method of defeating Ika Chu’s Mongo substitute, Sumo (voiced by Djimon Hounsou), in combat. The film is rife with violence of one type or another, but there’s a clear morality at play between who is good and who is bad. Presenting *to kids* the idea of using someone’s food allergy against them feels icky and potentially dangerous, even with aid being sought immediately after. So much so that, once my eldest stopped laughing at the sequence, we paused the film to discuss why that was a dangerous and deadly idea.

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L-R: Ricky Gervais as Ika Chu and George Takei as Ohga in PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure.

To expand on the cinematic experience, the home release includes three fairly lengthy featurettes. Two are focused on the making of the film, “Cool Cats and One Hot Dog” and “Giving Voice to Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” and one invites the audience to learn how to draw Hank and Jimbo. The cast-focused featurettes are enjoyable for the adults or more mature younger audiences as the cast and crew discuss everything from their process of recording through quarantine, recording in-studio with company, what lines made it into the film versus some that didn’t, and as well as other little making-of tidbits. For the animation fans, the 19-minute “In the Drawing Room with Director Rob Minkoff” is a real treat as Minkoff offers a guided tutorial of how to draw Hank and Jimbo individually before offering instruction on how to draw them together from the poster. What’s nice about this is the presentation style and delivery from Minkoff feels very inviting, enhanced by auditory and visual cues at the end of each segment to let the home viewing audience know when each is completed and to offer a break or “paws,” as they put it. Compared to other home video tutorials, like the recently released Farmaggedon (also October 18th) that doesn’t provide such detail, this kind of guide feels singular and exciting.

Keep in mind that the only way to get access to all three bonus features is to pick up either the Blu-ray or digital edition of the film. The DVD edition only includes the Rob Minkoff drawing tutorial.

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L-R: Gabriel Iglesias as Chuck and Aasif Mandvi as Ichiro in PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure.

If you love terrible puns, a bevy of Mel Brooks-related references, and samurais crossing swords, you could do far worse than Paws of Fury. To its credit, that title alone (a riff on Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury; though one is distinctly Chinese and the other Japanese-inspired) tells you everything you need to know about the kind of film you’re going to get. If you’re ok with that, then press play and enjoy yourself. To quote EoM editor Crystal Davidson, “if they make a follow-up to Paws of Fury, it better be called Mews in Space.”

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank Blu-ray and digital Special Features:

  • Cool Cats and One Hot Dog— Meet Hank (Michael Cera), Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) and their nemesis Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) plus more hilarious characters! (9:02)
  • In the Drawing Room with Director Rob Minkoff—Learn to draw the characters with director Rob Minkoff. (19:02)
  • Giving Voice to Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank – Voice cast Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ricky Gervais share behind-the-scenes fun and a sneak peek at what happens during voiceover sessions. (8:08)

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank DVD Special Features:

  • In the Drawing Room with Director Rob Minkoff—Learn to draw the characters with director Rob Minkoff. (19:02)

Available on digital August 16th, 2022.
Available on Paramount+ August 29th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD October 18th, 2022.

For more information, head to the official Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank website.

Final Score: 3 out of 5.

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Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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2 replies

  1. Probably won’t purchase this. I adore Mel Brooks. Still quote History of the World Part 1 on a regular basis. That and High Anxiety. I had a weird childhood.

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