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Top-notch cast, ‘Blazing’ plot makes ‘Paws of Fury’ an all-ages delight




Rated PG. At AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters.

Grade B+

Loosely inspired by the Mel Brooks’ 1974 groundbreaking comedy classic “Blazing Saddles” (and originally titled “Blazing Samurai”) and set in a mythical Japan inhabited mostly by cats, the computer-generated animated production “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” tells the story of a beagle named Hank (Michael Cera).

Sent to a small town (pop. 248) full of cats as their samurai to protect them from marauding cat bandits i.e., cat vikings, cat pirates, etc., Hank meets much opposition. The evil cat leader Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), who is obsessed with a giant jade toilet and the lavish castle he inhabits, sends Hank  to be the new samurai protector of the adjacent town of Kakamucho assuming that the cats will never accept a dog as their samurai. Ika Chu wants Kakamucho razed to the ground.

Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), conspires with Ohga (George Takei) in 'Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank' from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure. (Paramount Pictures)
Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), left, conspires with Ohga (George Takei) in ‘Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank’ from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align, and Aniventure. (Paramount Pictures)

What he does not know is that clueless Hank will win the townsfolk over by befriending some and by being sincere about becoming a samurai and protecting them from the enemies Ika Chu secretly sends to destroy them. Hank’s biggest asset is worldly former samurai Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), an out-of-shape tuxedo cat who becomes Hank’s reluctant sensei.

“Paws of Fury” mixes cat breeds and animated action with references to such classics as the aforementioned “Blazing Saddles,” as well as “Rocky” and “The Magnificent Seven.” Unfortunately, there is no Lili Von Shtupp (the incomparable Madeline Kahn) to be found in the film. Mel Brooks himself voices the film’s shogun, a character not unlike the lubricious French king the actor-writer-director played in his 1981 hit “The History of the World: Part 1.”

After signing a contract with his paw print, Hank becomes Jimbo’s trainee, learning to fight with sticks, swords and nunchucks and how to cross a chasm. When a giant ginger cat named Sumo (Djimon Hounsou) arrives in town riding a pig (and knocking out horses like Mongo in “Blazing Saddles”), Hank tries to take him on. Not realizing that Jimbo has helped him, Hank takes full credit for defeating Sumo and is quite impressed with himself. The locals give Hank presents: balls, bones and a squeeze toy. Hank is befriended by Emiko (Kylie Kuioka), a young Persian cat who wants to be a samurai. Her mother Yuki (yes, the omnipresent Michelle Yeoh) is more skeptical of the dog newcomer.

Directed by Chris Bailey and Mark Koetsier along with veteran Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”), “Paws of Fury” has enough flatulence jokes to amuse the “Blazing Saddles” buffs. The film’s credits lists several screenwriters, including Brooks and Richard Pryor, one of the credited writers of “Blazing Saddles.” Notably, studio executives are singled out as villains in the film.

Jimbo will loudly use one of the Jackson’s favorite expressions, modified for the film’s PG rating. Cat lovers will enjoy the varied breeds on caricatured display. The visuals are first-rate, and the action scenes, including a flood threatening the town, are very nicely rendered. That’s George Takei as the voice of the Shogun’s muscular warrior Ohga. Music by Bear McReary (“Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) is another asset.

All told, “Paws of Fury” should amuse children, parents and grandparents alike.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” contains action, violence and rude humor.


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