Live-action remakes are all the rage at Disney, which has dedicated itself to redoing all of its classic animated properties. But it’s not often you see the reverse — an animated remake of a classic live-action movie — and of all the movies you might think would be remade, one of the ones least likely to come to mind would be Mel Brooks’ 1974 black comedy, Blazing Saddles.
And yet, that’s exactly what the new animated film Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, tries to do, although the connection between the two films is tenuous at best. In the film, the narcissistic Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) leads a land dominated by cats, one in which each town is protected by a samurai. One such town, which just lost its fraidy cat of a samurai, stands in the way a great view for Ika Chu, and he vows to eradicate it altogether.
He attempts to make that easier by appointing a dog, Hank (Michael Cera), as the town’s new samurai, hoping the townsfolk will revolt against him. Naturally, everyone warms to him right away, especially after he earns an early victory with the help of an aging samurai, Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson). Soon, Hank and the town prove to much more formidable than Ika Chu ever expected.
Directed by a trio of filmmakers and boasting five credited writers (although three of them are the original Blazing Saddles writers), the film is one of the laziest mainstream animated films in quite some time. The film is full of cheesy one-liners, the breaking of the fourth wall on multiple occasions, and more that seem greatly out of place. What works in an adult-oriented comedy doesn’t fly in a kids movie because all of the bite is missing, leaving the jokes with no clear audience.
The filmmakers and writers just don’t seem to know how to make a broadly entertaining film. There are several clumsy attempts at making the movie relevant, vaguely calling out actions of hate and/or racism, but they don’t land at all. They throw in lots of anachronisms, inserting modern-day aspects among the ancient days of the samurai, but those scenes mostly confuse matters.
Worst of all is the storytelling decisions in general. If you didn’t know going in that it was based on Blazing Saddles, there would be little way to tell other than the presence of Mel Brooks in a small role. And the use of samurai instead of simply Old West figures is supremely odd, and in a way insulting, like they’re trying to steal from a culture they know nothing about. Perhaps they didn’t want to use guns, but writers who were more clever could have found a better way around this obstacle.
It’s difficult to keep up with Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and the like in the animation field, but the work put forth in this film is still relatively shoddy. The characters look fine, but none of them are so appealing that you can’t wait for the film to get back to them. And the fine details like hair and water are noticeably lacking compared with the superb graphics other studios produce.
The lackluster parts of Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, including the story, the writing, the animation, and the presence of celebrity actors no kid could ever name, provide no good reason for its existence. Even kids are smart enough to know when they’re being served something mediocre, and this film is so subpar it doesn’t even qualify as that level.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is now playing in theaters.