Paws of Fury is a solid samurai story trapped in an uninspired western remake.
Published on July 14, 2022
Rating 2 /5
Paws of Fury may initially lead audiences to believe that it’s playing off samurai stories. Given how one of the characters seems to kinda-sorta be named after Yojimbo, I expected some nods to some classic Kurosawa. What I didn’t expect was how much of a rip-off this film turned out to be of Blazing Saddles. It’s a bitter shame considering there’s actually some small charm to this animated picture when it’s not directly lifting from the Mel Brooks classic.
Where the film doesn’t embody Blazing Saddles is for focusing on the student-teacher dynamic. Hank (Michael Cera) is an anthropomorphic dog existing in Japan made up entirely of anthropomorphic cats. He is taught by the washed-up samurai cat Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) how to be a defender of a new town. Hank isn’t very skilled but soon develops into a cunning samurai making up for his scrawny look and meek mindset. There are some decent gags with their exploits and some solid fourth-wall-breaking bits about noting titles and pointing out running times.
Where this premise becomes lazy is how reliant it is on the similarities to Blazing Saddles. Hank is only placed in this position by the conspiring cat Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) who spares his life from execution in order to devastate a town for his own gain. If that premise sounds similar to the scheme of Hedley Lamarr, it’s all but solidified with Chu’s dialogue where he turns to the camera and states “Why am I asking you?” There are more direct replications in the characters. Djimon Hounsou voices Sumo, a rough but sweet beast of a character who storms into town and messes up a bar. George Takei voices Ohga, a dumb yet insightful soldier of Chu. And as if all that weren’t enough, the lording Shogun is voiced by Mel Brooks himself.
Now, all that would be fine except the jokes are not presented in a retooled manner. Many scenes reenact gags from Blazing Saddles almost verbatim. Remember that scene where the new sheriff comes to town and the first one to spot him keeps getting cut off by the noise? That exact scene is present with the racial slur replaced by the word dog. Some scenes are even lazier. The iconic moment of the villains sitting around the campfire eating beans and farting is elongated in a manner that feels less inspired. Scene after scene keeps reminding the audience of Blazing Saddles, making the adults in the crowd wish they were watching that film instead.
That being said, there are a handful of stylish flourishes here and there. I appreciated how all of the flashback scenes have this comic-book-style shading and color that looks immaculate. The slapstick comedy has some fun with exaggeration that isn’t afraid to find some clever new ways to showcase violence in a kid’s cartoon. Credit is certainly deserved for veteran animators Rob Minkoff and Chris Bailey putting forth some superb direction as guys who know their way around elaborate animation sequences.
Paws of Fury is a solid samurai story trapped in an uninspired western remake. It has its moments of decent animated gags but the original bits feel lost amid a sea of replicating Blazing Saddles to a lazy degree. As it stands, this is an animated feature that just plays like posing a kid-friendly version of the Mel Brooks comedy, lacking in the originality to make it its own thing. At least kids will learn a valuable lesson about racism and maybe find themselves led down the road to a far better comedy.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.