Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that there would be an animated version of Blazing Saddles geared towards children. In its original form, when it was first released, Saddles was a groundbreaking movie for the genre of comedy. At a time when racism and the civil rights movement this prejudice inspired were not at all distant memories, comedian/filmmaker Mel Brooks (with screenwriters including the one and only Richard Pryor) delivered an uproarious spoof of American Westerns with a razor sharp commentary on racism and cultural stereotypes. And now for some reason, someone had the idea to adapt this blue, but intelligently written, exceptionally directed and beautifully performed legendary film. Well, in a way the filmmakers manage to make this watered-down and often silly take on Saddles, but never are able to give audiences the same magic that Brooks, cast, and crew gave their audiences then and still continue to do so today.
In Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, this story takes place in feudal Japan, the time of shoguns, samurai, and ninjas. Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais, the high ranking officer of the Shogun (Brooks), has been spoiled by his power and plans to further abuse it by destroying the cat village of Kakamucho for the sole desire of having a better view from his palace. Ika Chu doesn’t necessarily desire to kill everyone in the village, but simply wants to scare them out of their homes. After their first samurai protector abandons them, the cats of Kakamucho asks the Shogun to appoint a replacement to continue protecting them.
Well, the Shogun appoints the task of selecting a new samurai to Ika Chu who decides to task a dog named Hank (Michael Cera) with the duty. While Hank has always dreamed of becoming a samurai, he has no skills or training whatsoever to fulfill his duties. In addition, the cats of the village have a strong hate/prejudice against dogs and do what they can to make Hank feel most unwelcome. Desperate for help, Hank turns to Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up former samurai with a cat nip problem. While Jimbo can train and prepare him to be a good samurai, Hank must also find the courage and the heart to handle the duties and responsibilities of such a well-respected and honorable warrior.
For the most part, I enjoyed this adorably goofy adaptation of Blazing Saddles. With a screenplay written by Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, directors Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey deliver a fun movie that children are sure to enjoy, but one that might receive mixed reactions from the adults watching this movie with them. Not all of the jokes work well. In fact, the movie has its share of groaners. However, just enough hit their marks for this movie to not be a total waste of time. The funny thing I noticed is that most of the jokes geared towards the adults are the ones that either reference gags from Blazing Saddles or are new variations of that film’s gags.
As far as the voice cast is concerned, everyone is great, and all seem to be having fun with their characters. In addition to the ones I mention above, the movie also features fun work by George Takei, Gabriel Iglesias, Djimon Hounson, Michelle Yeoh, Kylie Kuioka, and Aasif Mandvi. While the movie is moderately enjoyable, I feel that there is no need to rush to your local cinema to see it. This will do just fine when it hits a VOD or streaming service. And of course, most cinephiles often beg the question of why would anyone want to make Blazing Saddles into an animated childrens movie. Well, they did, so do what you want with it. The kids at my screening seemed to like it.