Ten production companies, two distributors, and three directors unite to bring a new animated martial arts comedy to life. Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is set in a land filled with cats. We follow a dog named Hank (Michael Cera) who has been tasked with protecting this land as their new samurai. What appeared to be simply a rip-off of Kung Fu Panda with dogs and samurai instead of pandas and Dragon Warriors has surprisingly ended up as a fun adventure that stands on its own thanks to its well-written screenplay and a great sense of humor.
The trailers for this film advertised two significant aspects of the movie that make it work and separate Paws of Fury from the rest. The first is the meta nature of the writing, which is the greatest asset Paws of Fury has to offer. This movie breaks the fourth wall in a manner similar to The Emperor’s New Groove, with some of the most outrageous jokes to arrive in a children’s movie this year. If you thought the Bond-style opening credits of Minions: The Rise of Gru was the most ridiculous meta-reference of a 2022 animated summer film, buckle up for a consistent series of gags that would make Deadpool proud.
Beyond the self-aware nature of the film, there are many surprisingly funny jokes with deceptively sharp writing that made me laugh even louder than the children in the theater. The comedy pops in this movie in a way that not every animated film can pull off, and part of this boils down to how this project was realized. Originally titled Blazing Samurai, this movie is loosely based on the 1974 film Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks portrays the Shogun in this movie, and many of Brooks’ fourth wall breaks and parodical sensibilities shine through in this film.
The story is admittedly formulaic. Paws of Fury follows Hank, a dog who wants to be a samurai. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite get the opportunity to be developed as a character before his call to action. Still, once he is put in charge of protecting a town of cats, he enlists the help of once-great samurai Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) to train him. We’ve seen this story. I know it, you know it, and the filmmakers know it. That’s why a giant shining arrow reading “Once Great Samurai” falls from the ceiling, pointed at Jimbo. The writers knew this was a cliché story and instead of playing it straight, they simply had a fun time telling it.
Besides the meta-comedy, the marketing also advertised another aspect of the film, which may bring more adults into the seats: the stacked cast. Cera and Jackson are the two leading players, and they both crank their celebrity personas to the max as this mismatched duo in two wonderful performances. The film’s antagonist is Ika Chu, portrayed by Ricky Gervais, who lends his perfectly sarcastic voice to the role. A star-studded cast that includes George Takei, Gabriel Iglesias, Djimon Hounsou, and Michelle Yeoh is a significant selling point for the film, and they all do an excellent job in their roles.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is not top-tier cinema. It’s not at the level of other 2022 animated films like Marcel the Shell with Shoes On or Lightyear, nor will it reach the meme-ability of Morbius or Minions: The Rise of Gru. Instead, this is a short, breezy movie that only runs for 85 minutes without credits, according to the characters in the film. You can also expect some of the loudest laughs of the year. Even if the movie can feel a little too derivative with its Kronk rip-off and predictable story, it’s a harmless piece of entertainment that delivers everything the trailers promised.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank review.