(2 stars)

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a mutt of a movie. If it sounds like a misguided idea to reimagine the 1974 Western spoof Blazing Saddles as a cuddly, computer-animated parody of samurai movies, well, that’s because it is.

Where “Blazing Saddles” confronted prejudice head-on and placed a black sheriff in a narrow-minded, white frontier town, “Paws” takes the bite out of the satire of the earlier film by populating this kid-friendly story with – wait for it – it. Cats and dogs. In this version, our hero is a na├»ve pup named Hank (voiced by the eternally innocent Michael Cera) who dreams of becoming a katana-wielding warrior when tasked with protecting the cat population of the fictional village of Kakamucho.

Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey are directing a new co-director Screenplay credited not only to Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, but also to the original Saddles Team: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger. Saddles’ loose storyline remains intact, and 96-year-old Brooks delightfully voices the Shogun who rules over Kakamucho (referring to his role as governor in Blazing Saddles). Yet this animated homage feels more hollow than honest, as it mimics the story beats and comedic styles of “Saddles” without its subversive humor. Logical for a children’s film? Yes, but still irritating.

Minions happily take a back seat in ’70s-inspired Rise of Gru

Aside from the confusing connection between source material and medium, “Paws” at least makes for a breezy summertime distraction. The contrived but cute film deserves credit for its indictment of insularity and some hearty laughs – all in just under 90 minutes, not counting the end credits or the short film that plays before the feature film.

That doesn’t leave much time to flesh out characters, although it’s not due to a lack of trying. As Gene Wilder from Saddles, an amusing Samuel L. Jackson voices Jimbo, a tuxedo cat who was once a prized samurai but now drinks his sorrows away with a concoction of catnip. Ricky Gervais is on autopilot as Ika Chu, the evil Somali cat who plans to perfect the view from his palace by wiping Kakamucho off the map. Djimon Hounsou speaks with a lazy timbre while an oversized jerk of a cat is sent to tuck Hank’s tail between his legs. And Kylie Kuioka talks a feisty kitten named Emiko to her own aspirations of becoming a samurai.

The fourth-wall-shattering shtick – a signature of “Saddles” – is most successful when trading silly visual gags. (“Where did that come from?” asks one character after crashing into the film’s opening title. “The Title Division,” another dutifully replies.) Roles as entertainment. Of course, as the absent-minded lieutenant of Ika Chu, George Takei will blurt out his endless meme catchphrase, “Oh my God!” But do we need it twice? Giving Star Wars alum Jackson a thinly veiled reference to the Force feels equally awkward.

Mel Brooks looks back on his delightfully dysfunctional career

Though the assembly line animation is mostly uninspiring, the ingenuity flashes. The pencil-sketched imagery of the opening credits – accompanied by a song that references the film’s original title, “Blazing Samurai” – is striking. The same goes for the shadowy, noirical filter layered over flashback sequences that explain Hank’s wannabe samurai origins and Jimbo’s comical fall from grace. A grainy Godzilla parody also makes for a welcome visual break.

For the little ones unaware of this film’s inspiration, the red character arcs and commendable morals should land well. And “Paws of Fury” occasionally swings its claws out with trenchant remarks about gun control, xenophobia and irrational intolerance. (“It just feels right to hate,” one cat muses casually.) Such barbs, however, get lost in a barrage of fart jokes and silly actions. Unfortunately, in the end, this noisy spectacle is more bark than bite.

PG. In the theaters of the region. Contains action, violence, crude and salacious humor and some swear language. 102 minutes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.