Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (2022) Review
A DATED, CONVENTIONAL, AND WEAK
Remakes are a dime a dozen in today’s cinematic landscape of Hollywood, with the idea of revamping, reworking, and reimagining old ideas into new ones being commonplace in today’s world. Rather than breathing new life into something or creating something a bit more original, the idea of adapting an old property into a new medium has become the “bread and butter” for Tinseltown over the past few decades, with many studios retreading and recycling such narratives for a new audience / generation to experience. The end result can be a little bit mixed, with some projects being favored by offering updated nuances to the current stage of the world, utilizing the latest technology of filmmaking, and new and ambitious acting talents to step in the roles. Such feature films that are prime examples of this are 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, 1995’s Heat, 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, 2011’s True Grit, Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011-2017), 2017’s IT, and 2018’s A Star is Born just to name a few. However, the same can be said about the opposite, with remake endeavors being sloppy, half-baked, and just downright terrible constructs. Examples of these types of movies can be found in 1998’s Psycho, 2006’s Wicker Man, 2011’s Arthur, 2012’s Total Recall, 2015’s Point Break, 2016’s Ben-Hur, 2017’s The Mummy, and many others. Now, Paramount Pictures (as well as Nickelodeon Movies) and directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey offer up the latest remake with the animated film Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. Does this reimagining of the classic Blazing Saddles film find merit within its undertaking or is it just a shallow cartoon attempt?
In feudal Japanese land that is ruled by cats, the warmongering Lord Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) is looking to expand his dominion and looking to be named the successor to the current Shogun (Mel Brooks), with the villainous feline targeting a nearby settlement village to wipe out. Instead of declaring war on the people, Ika Chu finds Hank (Michael Cera), a hapless dog that wonder into the kingdom who is looking become a samurai warrior, and appoints the canine as the new village samurai leader of the community, helping to weaken their morale and defenses, which will allow Ika take what he wants without much interference. Inexperience and untrained, Hank isn’t sure what to do with the current situation, looking for help from wayward sensei Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a once mighty samurai who’s step down from the passion of heroism, reluctant to help the young dog and his aspiration to become a samurai hero. Agreeing to train the feeble dog, Jimbo introduces the young hopeful to hard work and intensive swordplay combat, becoming attached to his apprentices during the process. However, peace is soon shattered by Ika Chu’s evil plans, which require Hank to use his training and defend his new home and its inhabitants.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It goes without saying that remakes are still the rage in currently Hollywood. It’s sad truth, but almost has been integrated into the mainstream cinematic endeavors for the past several decades, with most studios producing one or two (or even more) remakes and reimagines of older movies and ideas rather than creating new ones. It’s a staple for the industry (well, for that matter many industries out there) by relying heavily on what has worked in the past and somewhat “updating it” for a new viewing experience with a new audience to appreciate its production. As I stated above, some of these endeavors have proven to be effective, with some of my personal favorites being 2018’s A Star is Born, IT, 2011’s True Grit, 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, and 2021’sDune just to name a few. Yet, at the same time, I feel that Hollywood becomes to complacent with the whole remake idea and sometimes “banks” too much on the whole nostalgia trip and just creates a bland and forgettable feature film revamps or just simply shallow reskins projects. This is most apparently found in 2014’s Robocop, 2015’s Terminator: Gensyis, 2016’s Ben-Hur, and 2017’s The Mummy, which (to me) are quite “blah”. Thus, in the end, the saying that “Hollywood is running out of ideas” is kind of laughable understatement these days, with remakes still ever present in today’s movie landscape more than ever and, while can be either good or bad.
Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, a 2022 animated feature film and the latest movie project to utilize the remake mechanic for the presentation. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie for quite some time, despite the film having a very long and disastrous production, which started back in 2010. Back then, the feature was titled Blazing Samurai (a play on words from the 1974 film Blazing Saddles) was originally going to be created by Sony Pictures Animation, but never fully materializes, with the project seeing different exchanges of studios, productions companies, producers, writers, directors, and so on and so forth. Thus, it goes without saying that Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank went through development hell. This was even further realized when the movies originally release date back 2017 was delayed several times, including when the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak occurred, before it settled on a firm date of July 15th, 2022. I think I first remember hearing about only a few months ago when I caught the film’s movie trailer during one of the “coming attractions” previews when I went to go see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Judging from the preview alone, the movie didn’t look that particular interesting, with the standard “run-of-the-mill” animated endeavor. Nothing to get super excited about. That being said, I knew that the movie was going to be long in the movie theaters that much, especially being released as the same time as Where the Crawdads Sing as well as Jordan Peele’s Nope releasing the following week. Thus, I decided to check the movie out…. even though I sort of had low expectations for it. I waited a little bit to collective my thoughts about the film as well as playing “catch up” with a few several non-movie review things that needed to be taking care of. Now, I finally have the time to share my thoughts on the film. And what did I think of it? Well, it’s kind of what I expected….and that’s not a good thing. Despite its voice talents and its playful “cats and dogs” satire, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is a very generic and middling animated endeavor that really never finds its footing to stand on its own merits; merely wallowing in forgetful material and a predictable nature throughout. There are some moments that I liked in the film, but those are few and far between….and I think that most will feel the same way.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey; a trio of filmmaking talent with various background, with Minkoff known for his directing The Lion King, Forbidden Kingdom, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Koetsier as a story artist animator for Kung Fu Panda, Big Hero 6, and Tarzan, and Bailey as an animation supervisor for Shrek 2, Quest for Camelot, and The Little Mermaid. With most of them working on animated projects throughout their career, the combined efforts made by Minkoff, Koetsier, and Bailey seem like a suitable choice to helm an animated motion picture endeavor, with the results bearing fruit in a few areas. As to be expected, the movie itself (as mentioned above) is a cartoon remake that is loosely adapted of Mel Brook’s 1974 cult classic Blazing Saddles. It’s quite simple and straightforward to see the similarities right from the get-go, especially since the film’s angle and its comedic antics arise from the same style of that of Mel Brooks himself, which is probably what the trio of directors wanted to emulate in this movie. From that point, I think that the film itself makes a good mark by projecting the similar comedic style of Brooks’s work, with The Legend of Hank acting cartoon-ish animated background. This result is something a bit of a mixed bag (more on that below), but, for what it’s worth, the movie does find a particular swagger about it by not taking itself too seriously and almost acting like an animated satire of Brooks’s Blazing Saddles…. problems and all. This, of course, leads into the film’s self-awareness of itself, which can be quite amusing at times, with the directors toiling around with this notion several times in the film. It’s not the quintessential or newly creative idea to be placed in cartoon movie, but it is indeed a welcomed one…for better or worse. In addition, the movie, while it does move pretty fast, does offer the classic thematic message of tolerance, racism, and believing in oneself that can be extrapolated from the zany antics of its colorful characters and be understood in the various age ranges of the viewers (both young and old). Again, it’s a familiar message to be learning, but it’s a appreciated one, especially in today’s world, with The Legend of Hank displaying those themes with a kid-friendly touch that’s both easily accessible and to digest fundamentally.
In a side positive note, I do like how the movie utilizes the various different type of cats throughout the movie. Rather than just rendering a stereotypical andromorphic feline-like characteristics, the movie presents several different type of cats in and around the film, including a Tuxedo cat, a Somali cat, a British Shorthair cat, a Manx cat, a Calico cat, a Tabby cat, and a Persian cat just to name a few. It might be just a small positive, I do like the attention to detail and not just the filmmakers rendering a generic cat-like beings as the film’s cast.
The film’s presentation is bit mudded at times and not exactly the best, but, for what it’s worth, it works for the movie needs. As mentioned, I do like the whole Japanese feudal setting, with the various aesthetics and nuances of the culture being utilized for the main backdrop setting throughout the entire film. Thus, I do have to give the filmmakers their credit for making this cultural representation. That being said, the animation is a bit mixed. Yes, the character designs for the film are very expressive, especially in the facial features, but the movie’s animation looks a little bit dated. It’s not completely terrible, but it’s glaring notion of what 2017 animation would look like (and not on the same level as high caliber animation studio like Disney or Pixar) in comparison to today’s cartoon motion pictures. Thus, one can tell that there is significant difference. That being said, the film’s animation style makes the most of what it can be done, especially within its nuances and motifs of Asian cultures. It’s not steeped in the culture, but its décor and designs are good. Thus, I would have to give some credit to the film’s art direction team as well as the production design team for their efforts on the project. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Bear McCreary, is actually pretty good and deliver some great melodic and kid-friendly music to accompany the feature’s narrative and various scenes….be it action or dialogue dramatics.
Unfortunately, The Legend of Hank isn’t as great as the movie makes it out to be, with many glaring problems and criticisms throughout the entire viewing experience. How so? Well, for starters, the film itself is utterly predictable and conventional right down to the letter….and that’s not a good thing. The overall formulaic narrative and nuances that make up the feature’s story might’ve worked for a Saturday morning cartoon variety of the 90s era or even an early 2000s feature film, but not for a movie release in 2022 animated motion endeavor. The result is something that really doesn’t work properly, and it clearly shows in the movie, with contrite plot and haphazardly put together story. Yes, I do get it that the movie itself takes its inspiration from Blazing Saddles, with the project being clear representation of the 1974 Mel Brooks film is ever present, yet all it still quite predictable with really no surprises or twists. And yes…. I do understand that it is a kids’ movie, so I wasn’t expecting anything grand, but The Legend of Hank just utterly lacks originality. Even looking at its premise, there just a blandness to all and plays everything very straightforward and no real creative juices beyond its “cat and dogs” premise in a feudal Japan setting.
Perhaps the fault lies within the film’s trio of directors, with the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” come to mind quite frequently while watching this movie. It just seems like a mesh-mash of ideas and directions from the trio of directors, with the collection of the three of them trying to make sense of what the story wants to tell. The end result is just a messy production that has a lot of stuff that they want to say, but never comes together in a very cohesive way. Naturally, the try to poke fun of its own self-awareness, which can be fun, but I think that the directors go a little bit overboard with such tactics. There’s very little technical ingenuity employed by the directors of The Legend of Hank, which makes the whole endeavor quite bland and formulaic to the touch. Another problem that the trio directors make with the movie is how everything moves real fast. A good pace in the movie is always appreciated, but I felt that everything in this animated tale moved way too fast and sort of “skipped over” certain particular character / scene moments that could’ve been pivotal to the story. Thus, the movie itself feels like there are huge chunks of subplots and character development pieces that are missing from the final cut….and it’s quite noticeable. It’s the classic animated movie that might’ve worked if it was released years ago, but the film just comes off as a weak and uninteresting endeavor.
Another big problem that lies with The Legend of Hank is in the overall story narrative presentation of the feature’s script, which is quite vanilla and conventional to the touch….in a very middling way. Basically, the script, which was penned by Ed Stone, Nate Hopper, Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger follows the same suite as the directors, which makes for a bland and uneven narrative throughout the entire film. Of course, the movie follows the similar path of that of Blazing Saddles, which can be fun, but never really follows through on taking advantage of its source material, which makes The Legend of Hank feels half-baked. The story, while clearly taking cues from Blazing Saddles, feels pretty “meh” and never really goes anywhere; following a very familiar path and never deviating from it with a cookie cutter outline that never truly colors outside the lines. This means the script handling is quite conventional and flat. Even the comedic jokes and gags gets a bit old and stale; feeling outdated in today’s world. It’s like the writers just took the bare bones necessity of the 1974 film and just gave it a mediocre narrative window dressing, which makes The Legend of Hank’s writing (story, dialogue, character, etc.) underdeveloped and just forgettable.
The cast in The Legend of Hank is sort of mixed bag as the vocal talents provided for these animated characters are definitely recognizable (with very distinct dialects and voices), yet some of them feel clunky in how they are presented, which results in them being a tad lackluster and almost “phoned in” at times. Plus, it doesn’t help that most of the characters in the movie are (for lack of better word) rather generic and underwhelming throughout the movie. This is clearly represented in the film’s main trio of characters, who are the feature’s main heroes and villain of the tale…. namely Hank, Jimbo, and Ika Chu and who are voiced by actors Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ricky Gervais respectfully. For the most part, all three are perfectly fine in their individual voices, yet are weighed down by either lazy writing or just conventional storytelling manners to make their animated characters more well-rounded rather than just simply constructs. First off, Cera, who is known for his roles in Superbad, Juno, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is perfectly fine in the role of Hank, with the actor utilizing his signature trademark vocal performance of being nervous, twitchy, and hesitant unsureness that’s suitable for the character. Thus, Cera is a match for Hank’s voice. That being said, the character is quite flat and generic, with Hank being a very straight-forward construct that goes from the classic “zero to hero” narrative arc and that’s really not much to it. Of course, Cera does what he can with material given to him, yet it ends up being quite shallow, which makes the character of Hank rather bland and forgettable.
I would probably say that Jackson gets the most fun out of his time spent on The Legend of Hank, with his character of Jimbo being the type of construct character that Jackson is typical of playing. What do I mean? Well, he’s basically Jackson, but just in cat form, with his loud, sarcastic, and deadpan remarks that the actor has been customary of playing. It definitely works and probably is the best character of the entire movie, with Jimbo being the most memorable of the bunch. The problem is that (much like the other characters), the movie presents such a bland and too contrived character that has been done and redone many times before. If the story added new material to the character by changing things from the stereotypical old master trainer that harbors a dark past and teaches a new and inexperienced hopeful. Still, for better or worse, I felt that Jackson’s Jimbo, despite being generic and formulaic to the letter, was the most fun and enjoyable character of the feature.
As for Gervais, who is known for his roles in The Office, Extras, and Muppets Most Wanted, it’s a tossup for me. Like the rest of the cast, I think Gervais kind of pulls it off with his iteration of Ika Chu by showcasing his smug and smarmy attitude, with just the right amount arrogant and obnoxious bravado. Of course, the problem is that the character of Ika Chu is rather a weak bad guy, especially his overall villainy, which is kind of off-putting and vaguely menacing. Again, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, with its overall tone and visual aesthetics, but the script isn’t really trying hard to make the character new or creatively original. Plus, the likeability of Ika Chu depends on what you think of Geravis himself, with some being happy with the choice and other dismissive. It’s really a tossup. To me, the character is just Geravis being himself, but nothing about Ika Chu seems quite memorable, which is disappointing. Thus, in the end, I feel like the character is just a throwaway main villain and just merely played for laughs.
The rest of the cast, including comedian / actor Gabriel Iglesias (The Book of Life and The Nut Job) as Chuck, actor George Takei (Star Trek and Supah Ninjas) as Ika Chu’s loyal side-kick warrior Ohga, actress Kylie Kuioka (Better Nate Than Ever and Harom) as Emiko, actress Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All at Once) as Emiko’s mother Yuki, actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator and Blood Diamond) as a giant and dim-witted, yet philosophical warrior named Sumo, actor Aasif Mandvi (Million Dollar Arm and The Internship) as Ichiro, and actress Cathy Shim (The Sun is Also a Star and Samurai Daycare) as the grand dame of Kakmucho known as Little Mama, round out the rest of the remaining characters in the movie, which are roughly the supporting players of the story. While the acting involved is solid in these roles, they are mostly underutilized in the movie, which renders them quite flat and generic…. even though most are just side characters. This is even more disappointing to several characters like Iglesias and Yeoh, whose respective characters could’ve been easily expanded upon and had more screen-time. Hounsou, Takei, and Brooks get to have a few memorable moments with their characters, but (again) it could’ve been some much better if the characters themselves were better shaped and managed rather than just “cookie cutter” caricatures that are walking tropes that we (the viewers) have seeing time and time again.
To prove his worth and to save the community from Ika Chu’s evil plan, Hank must prove himself worthy of taking the name of samurai in the movie Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. Directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey’s latest film takes an animated adaptation look into 1974’s Blazing Saddles; following a similar narrative through the cartoon usage of cats and dogs to the frame the story in rambunctious setting of feudal Japan and the code of being a samurai. Although the movie finds it’s a fundamental message and has a few good acting talents, the majority of the feature is just a shallow presentation, including a lazy direction, a weak premise, an even weaker writing, and bland “cookie cutter” characters. Personally, I didn’t particularly care for this movie. It wasn’t completely deplorable, but the movie itself was just too conventional and too middling to make heads or tails of it. I did like some of the voice talents, but that’s pretty much it. Again, if this cartoon feature was released maybe back in the late 90s / early 2000s era, it might’ve found better success with moviegoers and critics. Sadly, it is not. Thus, my recommendation for this endeavor is a passable “skip it” as there are plenty of other animated pictures out there that are worth seeing than this particular one. There’s just no really rush to see this. Just wait for it to come to TV or to a streaming platform for a lukewarm viewing experience. In the end, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, while trying to be reimagine Blazing Saddles as a kid-friendly animated feature, just ends up being a bland and too pretentious cartoon endeavor that never rises the occasion and wallows in forgettable middling mediocrity.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: July 15th, 2022
Reviewed On: August 16th, 2022
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is 97 minutes long and is rated PG for action, violence, rude, and suggestive humor, and some language