Growing up I was in love with Mel Brooks comedies. From Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles to History of the World Part 1, Brooks’s irreverent style of comedy was fully on display, not to mention some of the other projects he helped create like Get Smart. His name appeared as one of the 7(!) writers credited on Paws of Fury. Alongside him is the late Richard Pryor of all people, which raised some eyebrows. The film is such a ripoff of Blazing Saddles that all 5 of the writers on that film are given credit here too.
Hank (Micheal Cera) is a dog who wants to become a samurai. He crosses the border into a land where only cats live, and they detest dogs. The nefarious Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais cashing a paycheck), sets out to destroy a neighbouring village for no real apparent reason, scaring away their resident samurai protector in the process. After the town appeals to the Shogun (Mel Brooks himself) for another protector, Ika sees an opportunity and installs Hank as the new samurai, much to the chagrin of the townspeople. But with the help of a washed-out samurai named Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) perhaps Hank can learn to achieve something after all.
This may have at some point been an attempt at a homage to Blazing Saddles, but the final product turns into a barely watchable mash-up of Saddles and Kung Fu Panda – two much better films that Paws desperately wants to be. The jokes are lame, old, and stale, we’ve seen all this a thousand times before. When the film intentionally breaks the 4th wall for the 3rd time within the first 20 minutes or so, you have to know you are in trouble. One has to wonder that even with Brooks lending his voice to a character if he had any hand in shepherding this debacle at all.
The only thing that works and sets the film up for any limited success is the animation style and execution. The film looks very good, not on a Pixar level but few studios are, and does carry the look of a film that should be in theatres and not buried on a streaming service or direct to VOD. But the fact that a film like this gets a full theatrical release while something like Turning Red was forced directly to Disney + due to pandemic concerns is just a downright crime against cinema.
All the actors here are fine for the most part, but it’s not like anyone is doing anything original or interesting. Sam Jackson and Michael Cera have such distinct personalities, and literally do nothing to show any range, that you can close your eyes for a second and envision them in their voice-over booths reading lines. Rickey Gervais sounds incredibly bored with the whole process and they do so little with Michelle Yeoh, Gabriel Iglesias, and Djimon Hounsou that I doubt anyone will recognize them without a bit of effort.
After the screening, a friend looked at me and simply stated “Well, it could have been worse”, and I suppose he’s right. I mean the above-par animation work and the 3 sight gags that actually made me laugh, out of a couple hundred, are enough for me to not grade this below a one star. And the kids who have never seen films from Brooks’s cannon and don’t mind another Kung Fu Panda ripoff may end up enjoying this a whole lot more than I did. As for me though, my only response on that day was “not by much”.
- Rated: PG
- Genre: Animated Comedy
- Release Date: 7/15/2022
- Directed by: Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier, Rob Minkoff
- Starring: Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, George Takei, Kylie Kuioka, Mel Brooks, Michael Cera, Michelle Yeoh, Ricky Gervais, Samuel L. Jackson
- Produced by: Adam Nagle, Guy Collins, Peter Nagle, Susan Purcell, Yair Landau
- Written by: Alan Uger, Andrew Bergman, Ed Stone, Mel Brooks, Nate Hopper, Norman Steinberg, Richard Pryor
- Studio: Paramount, Paramount Animation
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