It seems frankly insane that Mel Brooks’ Western pastiche Blazing Saddles has been remade as this child-friendly animated adventure set in feudal Japan. The original film’s romantic subplot and its genre-shattering surrealism have been replaced here with more straightforward action sequences but there are still plenty of offbeat touches along the way, including smart gags that poke fun at the movies.
The film follows Brooks’ usual approach: throw 100 jokes at the screen and hope that some of them stick. This includes meta-punchlines, naughty puns and a nonstop whirlwind of silliness. So even if it never quite goes over the top like the madcap 1974 original, it’s still entertaining, appealing differently to younger viewers who will enjoy the nuttiness and older ones who will catch the more subtle edgy humour. This includes the way that, instead of racism, this movie centres on rivalry between cats and dogs.
In ancient Japan, the feline Lord Ika Chu (voiced by a hilariously sneery Gervais) is determined to demolish a village of cats simply to improve his view. But when he chases off the local samurai, the residents petition the Shogun (Brooks, reprising his original role) for a new one. So Ika Chu selects the beagle Hank (Cera) for the job, simply because as a despised dog he’s doomed to fail. But Hank isn’t as dumb as he looks, and he teams up with drunken has-been samurai Jimbo (Jackson) and a ragtag group of villagers to take on Ika Chu’s ninja army.
Even as a hapless dog, the quick-witted Hank is a superbly likeable hero who is easy to root for, especially as he works with the zen-like Jimbo, who is taking his own journey to redemption. Cera and Jackson give engaging vocal performances that bring out sparky character details. Annoyingly, the female roles feel rather sidelined, including heroic kitten Emiko (Kuioka) and her wise mother Yuki (Yeoh). But the continual goofiness wins us over, rendered in brightly colourful, kinetic animation that always feels wonderfully out of control.
Is Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
While the more adult-oriented humour of Blazing Saddles has been removed or severely toned down, the movie still features rather a lot of toilet-based jokes that will keep the kids giggling. The violence is mainly of the slapstick variety, while puns and innuendo will go over most youngsters’ heads.
If you like this, why not try: