NEW YORK (CNS) — Bathroom humor reaches new heights — make those lows — in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (Paramount), an animated martial arts spoof with a highly unlikely origin.
Although its target audience is children (the film carries a Nickelodeon Movies banner), directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey based their feature film on the 1974 adult comedy Blazing Saddles.
In fact, Ed Stone and Nate Hopper share screenwriting with the five original writers of Blazing Saddles, including chairman Mel Brooks and the late Richard Pryor.
It’s a clever conceit that misses the mark, though Brooks lends his rough tongue as the shogun, a wise leader. The only recognizable elements of “Blazing Saddles” here are horses being smacked on the head and a veritable tsunami of gas.
The fish-on-water plot is easily familiar, although here it is set in a swashbuckling world of swords and samurai. A warmongering Somali cat named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), who worships a monumental jade toilet he calls his “Super Bowl,” hatches an evil plan to (really) destroy a neighboring cat village called Kakamucho.
To undermine the village, Ika Chu selects the most unlikely candidate as samurai protector: a hapless, insecure beagle named Hank (voiced by Michael Cera) – despite the fact that cats naturally hate dogs. Once the cats discover that Hank has no fighting skills, he is relegated to dog food status.
But Hank perseveres and embraces his fate by begging a beat-up samurai, Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), to train him in the sacred arts.
Jimbo, who would rather eat catnip all day, relents, sensing Ika Chu is assembling an invading army led by a Manx cat named Ohga (voiced by George Takei). He dusts off his copy of Samurai for Dummies and gets to work.
“I can’t teach a dog to be a cat,” he says. “But I can teach a dog to be a better dog.”
“Paws of Fury” channels “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Karate Kid” as the training begins, and Jimbo spouts wisdom like “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something.”
As the action nears its peak, the constant chaos borders on the extreme – which makes what Road Runner did to Wile E. Coyote seem like child’s play – and is therefore too intense for younger viewers.
Also, regrettably, there’s always a potty lurking around the bend to offer “odd” relief.
“I want to leave my mark,” Hank says, tugging at his pants after winning a fight. “I had asparagus last night.”
The film contains intense cartoonish violence and crude, scatological humor. The Catholic Intelligence Service classification is A-III – Adult. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG – parental guidance recommended. Some materials may not be suitable for children.
McAleer is a guest critic for the Catholic News Service.
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